A Historic Brush with Food Fraud

The quality of food is often an important factor in what people buy at the grocery store these days. Some people opt for organic or preservative-free products, and others will even go so far as to grow some of their own produce. But the food police haven’t always been so vigilant with the quality of our produce.



History tells of many ages past where cooks and bakers and manufacturers would add “supplements” to their food to save resources and money. In fact, you could go so far back as the tragic volcanic eruption of Pompeii and find examples of protection against food fraud. Historians discovered a preserved loaf of bread in the ashes with a stamp on it. The stamp was meant to identify the baker pf that loaf so that, in the event that the bread was in any way compromised, authorities would know who to fine. Can you imagine the kinds of things bakers used to get by with before the implementation of these laws?


There was also the Guild of Pepperers (later called the Worshipful Company of Grocers, but that doesn’t sound nearly as cool) in England during the turn of the first millennium that sought to ensure spices entering the country were of top quality. According to Idlogiq, they sifted the spices to point out any rocks or rubbish that had been slipped in to make up space. Sometimes it proves difficult, however, to distinguish tiny specks of ground pepper from tiny specks of dust swept up from the floor. Nonetheless, the spice itself was considered highly valuable, so there were heavy fees to pay for anyone found guilty of adding to the mix.


If you’re now thinking, “Wow, it sure is nice to have proper food policing in today’s society,” you might be surprised to know that food fraud happens even in the present. A 2016 study conducted by non-profit organization Oceana found that a sizable ratio of tested fish were not as they were labeled. “Orders of sea bass were often replaced by giant perch, Alaskan halibut by Greenland turbot, and Florida snapper by lavender jobfish, to name a few.” That white tuna roll you ordered for your sushi lunch? It may actually be escolar, an cheaper, indigestion-inducing fish. That’s one way to ruin an appetite!


This contemporary cutting of corners is not only an outrage to sushi lovers all over North America, but also a great risk to those with certain seafood allergies or sensitivities. It seems you can never completely trust what’s on the packaging, even in the twenty-first century. Be careful what you eat out there, from the grocery store or from your favorite take-out place! One of the best protections is knowledge, so being highly aware of what you’re eating by reading between the lines on the ingredients list or asking your local meat clerk about their cuts might help you eat more cleanly!

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