How to Avoid Fake Fish and Fake Olive Oil

fake olive oil

The following ideas are taken from Larry Olmsted’s book Real Food, Fake Food published in 2016.  Mr. Olmsted is a food and travel columnist at Forbes.com, a writer, and teaches nonfiction writing at Dartmouth College.  He loves food, gardening, travel and trying exotic new foods. He became perplexed at why food in other countries did not taste the same when he came home to America and ordered the same thing, such as Kobe Beef, Italian Olive Oil, and Parmesan Cheese.  It initiated for him an extensive investigation into food where he discovered a lot of fake food. He wrote this book to tell about it.

In our main article today we talked about the likelihood of getting fake fish and fake olive oil.  Here are some of his suggestions for seeking out the real stuff:

FISH

  • Look for third party outside and non-profit evaluators certifications. Several to look for include Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), Global Aquaculture Alliance’s Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP for farmed fish),Blue Ocean Institute ratings by the Safina Center at Stony Brook and the Gulf of Main Research Institute’s Gulf of Main Responsibly Harvested certification.  For those of us who are Houstonians, The Gulf Wild seal is a reliable assurance of the authenticity of wild-caught seafood from the Gulf of Mexico and is ideal for shrimp.
  • “Alaska Seafood: Wild, Natural, Sustainable” is one of the most reliable seafood logos you will find. The state has completely outlawed fish farming, and has a constitutional by-law requiring sustainability. Fisheries are regarded as well managed against overfishing, pollution and habitat damage. Alaskan Salmon has little or no traces of contaminants, low levels of heavy metals and organochlorines. Other than Alaskan Salmon, look for pollock, king crab, snow crab, black cod and pacific halibut as well as all five species of Alaskan salmon: king/chinook, sockeye/red, coho/silver, keta/chum and pink.
  • Here’s some good news: According to Michael Bell, director of the California Coastal and Marine Program for the Nature Conservancy, “Fishery management in the U.S. is the best in the world.” Since our supply chain is less contorted and our domestic monitoring of environmental factors is better, buying American is usually a good choice. This applies especially to Alaskan as well as Mississippi gulf fish, Maine Lobster, scallops and fish as well as domestically farmed catfish, assuming they are labeled honestly.
  • Wild Caught is usually a best choice, though there are some exceptions. Especially avoid farmed raised, foreign shrimp.
  • When eating out, if you order white tuna or red snapper, you will almost without doubt get something fake. Salmon will be farmed, crab will be imitation. Be wary of grouper too.  Your best shot is to eat at some of the nation’s very best (and expensive) seafood and sushi eateries and otherwise, as Larry Olmstead says, assume the worst and you will most likely be right.
  • Large grocery retailers including Walmart, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Costco were named as reliable sources for seafood, fresh and frozen. According to Olmsted, he was surprised to hear the consistent message from industry experts that the big box stores with enormous buying leverage often force adherence to higher standards. At Walmart, over 90 percent of their seafood is either certified or in a fishery improvement program.

OLIVE OIL

  • Olmsted’s top three brand picks: California’s McEvoy Ranch, Australia’s Boulder Bend-Cobram Estate and Spain’s Oro Bailen.
  • Reliable retailers include T.J.Robinson’s Fresh Pressed Olive Oil Club, Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Oliviers & Co. and Tom Mueller’s extravirginity.com
  • In terms of labels, some concepts that may help in selection of a good, real olive oil include:
    • The more information the better
    • A harvest date, no more than one year old
    • Know that there is no regulatory significance to terms like “first cold pressed, or “extra virgin” so don’t let that lead you.
    • Look for third party certifications that promise higher standards such as “COOC Certified Extra Virgin”( California Olive Oil Council) or EVA (the Extra Virgin Alliance) and “100% Qualita Italiana”, by UNAPROL, the association of actual Italian olive growers. Interestingly, little stock is put in a USDA organic certification!
  • Chile and Australia have better practices and stricter standards in general according to the U.S. International Trade Commission report on the quality of extra-virgin olive oil followed by the United States. So these may be the best “go to” source of origin when in doubt.
  • Newer oils are always better. Be sure to buy small quantities (a six week supply) as it is highly perishable. It should not be exposed to heat or light and is best stored in a cool, dark cabinet. Tins do the best job of blocking the light, followed by an opaque bottle. Oxygen is also an enemy of olive oil so once opened, the oil quality is going downhill quickly.

¹ Real Food/Fake Food by Larry Olmsted, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2016.

By |2017-05-05T06:22:45-05:00May 3rd, 2017|Articles, General, NANCY’S NUTRITIONAL NUGGET|

You Don’t Always Get What You Want (or think you bought)

by Mila McManus MD and Nancy Mehlert MSfake fish

There is no question, that if you knew everything about your food and what the FDA considers “acceptable”, you would be shocked.  It may surprise you (or not) that the FDA doesn’t have the resources to pursue all the fraud in the marketplace. And like so much in government, the FDA can be heavily influenced. Additionally the food industry is powerful and busy in Washington fighting for itself, and not usually for what is best for you.  Unfortunately, that leaves us to figure out what really is safe to eat and sometimes that is seemingly impossible to do. Moreover, the food industry and marketing techniques today are laden with an over-abundance of hype and confusion. Today we are sharing a few food examples of “fake food”. The information about fish and olive oil is taken from Larry Olmstead’s 2016 book called Real Food/Fake Food.

Sushi and Other Fish Scams¹

It may be surprising to you that there are very serious and frequent scams in the fish world where less expensive and sometimes dangerous fish are sold as a premium species. According to Larry Olmstead in his 2016 book Real Food, Fake Food, “The seafood industry is rife with fraud, substitutions and adulteration.”  The non-profit marine conservation group, Oceana, launched a study in New York City and found fraud in 58 percent of the retail outlets.  In addition, 39 percent of restaurants were serving something other than what the menu claimed was being served.  In the same study, they found that every single sushi restaurant, 100% of them, served fake fish.  Upon further research, they discovered these trends existed as the rule for the entire country.  In sushi restaurants, the single most common substitute for tuna is escolar, one of the most dangerous sea food products you can buy, nicknamed “Ex-lax fish” because it contains a natural wax ester that causes gastric distress and diarrhea. It is never shown on a menu as escolar, yet it is one of the most widely served fish in this country.  Other frequent trade out scams include replacements for grouper and red snapper. Apparently, according to Larry Olmstead, almost all red snapper sold in the U.S. is fake and more likely to be tilefish, which is on the FDA’s do-not-eat list for children and pregnant women because of high mercury levels.  Tilefish is a common trade out for halibut on the menu too. In the shrimp world, it is extremely common for farm-raised to be labeled wild caught. Olmstead also says that shipping and country-of-origin information is routinely, and illegally, falsified to cover up poaching and to hide fish coming from dangerous farms that use unapproved chemicals and even slave labor. Did you know that wild Atlantic salmon is extinct, so always farm raised when you see it on a menu or package?  Alternatively, Alaskan and Pacific Salmon is wild, where fish farming is illegal (in Alaska).

Olive Oil²

There are many ways to adulterate olive oil.  To begin with, the legal definition says that olive oil is nothing but the juice extracted from high-quality, fresh, otherwise unprocessed olives.  It is a time sensitive issue from proper ripeness and speed to press from picking. The best oils are pressed within 12 hours from picking at perfect ripeness. The three main ways to adulterate it are to dilute it with less expensive oils, dilute it with lower grades of olive oil that have been heavily refined with chemicals, or failing to pick at peak ripeness and press immediately, resulting in an older, rancid oil. Most of our olive oil comes from Italy where Italian investigators have found plenty wrong with olive oil from hydrocarbon residues, pesticides and pomace oil laced with mineral oil, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons which are proven carcinogens and that can also damage DNA and the immune system.  According to Olmstead, virtually every investigation, whether by universities, journalists, law enforcement or government agencies, have found the olive oil industry rife with fraud. Our supermarket brands are almost all, without exception, included in these fake oils and routinely fail testing. In 2011, a large sample supermarket test was conducted of the top selling imported “extra-virgin” olive oil brands in the United States and 73% of the time they failed to meet the basic legal standard for olive oil. Colavita performed best but failed 50% of the time and Pompeian took last place and almost never passed. As recently as November 2015, the police in Turin, Italy investigated seven leading producers which included Bertolli and Carapelli and all seven brands failed despite being labeled “100% Extra Virgin” olive oil.   By law, “virgin” oil can only be extracted by physical processing such as crushing or centrifuges without the use of chemicals or heat. Sadly, you can see that enforcement is non-existent and everyone in the industry knows it.

¹ Real Food Fake Food by Larry Olmsted, Copyright 2016, Published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, Chapter 3, Fishy Fish

² Excerpts from Real Food Fake Food by Larry Olmsted, Copyright 2016, Published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, Chapter 4, Spoiled Oils: Olive and “Truffle”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By |2017-05-05T06:21:11-05:00May 3rd, 2017|Articles, General|
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