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The Increasing Demand for Healthy Fruit and the Fraudulent Downside

Sales of ‘superfoods’ are being bolstered by the increase of health-consciousness in society. Despite some of these foods being on our supermarket shelves for a long time, in the past few years they have experienced a resurgence, with claims of vitamins and antioxidants fuelling demand.

Morrisons supermarket has continued its ‘Wonky’ line by selling blemished pomegranates to keep up with the rise in demand for the fruit. Rich in vitamin C and potassium, pomegranates appeal to the idea of healthy living.

Brazil nuts, a common Christmas treat, are renowned for their high selenium content, a mineral needed for a healthy immune system and prevents cell and nerve damage, and their high monounsaturated fat. However, the harvest for Brazil nuts in 2017, mainly from Bolivia, dropped significantly due to drought across the South America last year caused by the El Niño weather event.

Another fruit suffering from lower harvests and price drops is the widely-exalted blueberry. European wild blueberries prices have risen sharply due to the low harvests, and in the US, price drops for farmers means that the government has had to step in to try and support the sector by purchasing some of the surplus berries in Maine.

Recently, coconuts have come into focus for the health benefits of their oil, butter, and water, but falling production in areas such as the Caribbean, and the rise in demand, means that supply has dropped.

So what are the risks with some of our favourite healthy foods?

Any food market where supply is smaller than demand will run the risk of fraudulent products sneaking into the supply chain. Coconuts can have many different properties – the oil can be used as a cooking aid or a cosmetic product, and their meat is used in many different foods. As such, the potential for fraud is fairly large, consisting of country of origin/Fairtrade sourcing mislabelling, dilution of oil, water and milk, addition of undeclared sweeteners, and organic claims. A NFCU (National Food Crime Unit) investigation this year discovered undeclared added sugars in several different coconut drink products.

Brazil nuts, like other nuts, are at risk of adulteration or mixing with other, cheaper kinds of nut when ground or chopped. Because of the high prices and low supply of this year, it is possible that suppliers may try and stretch their stock by adding other kinds of nuts or substituting organic Brazil nuts for conventional.

Premium products, such as pomegranates and blueberries are also at risk of organic fraud, since the higher prices means that a large profit can be made by passing off conventional products as organic.

What can be done to reduce the risk of fraud in these products?

Traceability in supply chains is essential for food safety. Isotope testing can offer a way to help detect different types of fraud in products where there is suspicion, or if any checks need to be carried out.

Agroisolab is pleased to offer tests for sugar addition in products, organic verification, and country of origin testing on products with an appropriate database.

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