Thursday, January 24, 2013

Alert: Food Fraud and Kashrut - Pork in your milk?

We've talked about this before (such as this piece: Still think you can trust the fish counter?), but CNN has a new piece today, "Food Fraud on the Rise," highlighting the problem of substitution of one food for another on the market.

This has the potential to cause significant kashrut problems, both for Pesach and year-round. Examples of concerns include:

* Substitution of one kind of fish for another, so that one may not actually be eating kosher fish;
* Addition of grape juice to pomegranate juice, creating stam yeinam problems;
* Addition of corn syrup to honey, creating Pesach problems for those who avoid kitniyos.

Excerpt from the article:

The new records show that the most commonly fraudulent products are olive oil, milk, saffron, honey and coffee.
Tea, fish, clouding agents (used in fruit juices, like lemon, to make products look freshly squeezed), maple syrup and spices (turmeric, black pepper and chili pepper) were also top imposters.
Most of the reported food fraud was committed by producers adding fillers (i.e. other plant leaves to tea leaves), mixing in less expensive spices with high value spices or watering down liquids. Olive oils were often replaced and/or diluted with cheaper vegetable oils. Clouding agents were found in 877 food products from 315 different companies. Another popular target: Pomegranate juice, often made with grape skins and grape and pear juices.

The article also points the reader to a Food Fraud Database.

The first search I did there was for milk; I have long understood that there was no history of diluting cow milk with pig milk in the United States, but I wanted to check.

I'm not sure of what this means, but I found a record here, from 2012, of adulteration with "Milk from non-authentic animal species". I wonder what that means... And another report on the site identifies pork lard in milk powder! [Other reports have goat milk and water buffalo milk and "cow tallow" mixed in.] Requiring a hechsher on milk and milk powder is looking wise right now...

UPDATE: I stand corrected regarding the paragraph above; the findings mentioned in the previous paragraph include incidents from outside the US, as well as academic studies in which impurities were added for the sake of detection. I was duped by the fact that the site is run by the "US Pharmacopieal Convention" and the fact that I also include reports from the field.

Moral of the story: Even if an apparently simple product shouldn't require a hechsher (kosher certification by an outside supervisor), it may need it due to industry fraud.


  1. Wow, that is worrying - even aside from kashrut, there may be allergy issues as well as the crime of fraud.

    I wonder if the situation is any different in Europe. I have no idea how food regulation compares, but generally ALL markets are more regulated here than the US, but regulation on paper does not in itself prevent fraud unless there is a strong regulatory regime of inspection and punishment.

  2. the first link is to a scholarly article, published in the International Dairy Journal, by a group working in the Netherlands.

    If so, this is not (necessarily) evidence of "diluting cow milk with pig milk in the United States". Also, from the summary, it seems like they deliberately did the adulteration in order to detect it. (Thus, scholarly.)

    What, besides that the web site is the USP Food Fraud Database, makes you believe that all these are occurrences within the US?

    kol tuv,

  3. I was going to make the same points as Josh Waxman. Additionally, the second link is also scholarly.

    It was done by a group in Brazil, and all adulterations were done in the lab. Police, in a separate incident, seized adulterated milk. But that was in Brazil, not the States.

  4. Daniel-
    I understand that there are adulteration issues in Europe, but don't have any particular sites to point to on it.

    Josh, Russell-
    Thanks for your research; I appreciate it, and have updated my post accordingly. I was fooled by the fact that it was the USP, and that they include both academic research and field reports.

  5. Though honestly ... if there really was corn syrup in your honey, I would *hope* it would be batel b'rov on Pesach ... okay ask me how far we go lechat'chila ... everyone agrees the best case is just not to have סבאך מהול במים, kosher issues or not.

  6. Isn't there the Aruch Hashulchan about concerns the olive oil was adulterated, where he said the local chemists determined "it's not 100% olive, but it is 100% plant-based", which was good enough kashrus-wise?

  7. Shalom -
    It's YD 114:18, and he was countering those who said there was lard mixed in, עיין שם.

  8. Not to burst any bubbles but this is not new.
    On three different occasions I've been told by non-Jews (without ever asking them, by the way) about their time working in some area of food production and how "the rabbi" would come arond to bless the food so it would be kosher. Two of them wondered how we could trust anything to be kosher since when the rabbi wasn't around there was no quality control. The third person told me how she and her friends would bring bacon bits (NOT the mock veggie kind) and throw it into the food when the rabbi wasn't around, just to show him!
    Bottom line: the best kashrus is with fresh, simple products and prepared in your own kitchen.

  9. Quite aware, unfortunately, Garnel. You might check out the posts under the label "Life in the Rabbinate: Kashrut"...