Food fraud is the intentional addition of food products or ingredients not indicated on labels, often done for economic gain. Some examples include horse meat in beef lasagna, wood chips in grated parmesan cheese, or vegetable oil in "100% extra virgin olive oil." This crime costs the global food industry between $10-15 billion every year and affects approximately 10% of food sold in U.S. supermarkets—many of which are products that are produced overseas.
Spices are prime targets for adulteration. In 2016, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration found that turmeric being imported from Pran—a spice company in Bangladesh—was high in lead, a neurotoxin. There is no "safe" threshold of lead. Spice producers put lead into turmeric to help it achieve a bright, golden hue. In this case, food fraud has become a public health issue. The FDA put Pran under an import alert. Since then, suppliers from India and elsewhere have still been trying to sell adulterated turmeric to the U.S.
With the prevalence of turmeric among South and Southeast Asian communities and the rising popularity of turmeric as an anti-inflammatory agent in the U.S., consumer demand can incentivize others to adulterate turmeric. Now, researchers from Stanford are working with food safety agencies in Bangladesh to clean up the turmeric supply chain. This model could be used in the future to stop fraud in other commonly adulterated foods.