Season 11 Episode 4

Do We Really Know What’s in Our Food?

The label says it’s vinegar, but what is it really…? Today we investigate the subtle art of fraud in the food world. What is it, why does it exist, and who is policing it? And when does clever marketing become genuine fraud?! We look at some different types of food fraud and discuss how we feel about it. Plus, Ebbers gets ideas for his blockbuster Netflix series – watch this space… So, have YOU ever been food duped? Comment below with your examples!

 Best soundbite: “I’m now really worried about Ebbers the Enforcer coming and knocking down my door” – Jamie Spafford

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Something to make you think...

Lots of products are described as being “organic” or “homemade”, when that might not be strictly true. Are you more likely to buy products that are marketed in this way? Do you think this kind of marketing is fraudulent, or just clever?

What We Read Ahead of This

The Way We Eat Now – Bee Wilson

The vinegar you’re using at fish and chip shops isn’t actually vinegar


What would you like to feast your ears on?
If you want to contribute ideas or want to hear us discuss a particular topic then email us at


  1. LawgirlOz

    Coming to this very late, but in Australia in 2018 there was a big scandal about honey – with tests identifying that the vast majority of what was being sold in supermarkets as honey actually being adulterated with rice syrup, as it cannot be detected by the older standard test, but can be detected by a newer test. This was true of even major supermarket brands. Apparently after milk and olive oil, honey is the most adulterated food sold in the world. That is leaving aside the “manuka honey” scandal, where there is more manuka honey sold than could possibly be produced from the manuka trees growing.

  2. Sunanda_K

    Unfortunately, India has seen a LOT of food fraud over the years. Since a lot of food comes from traditional markets ( for example , many people still get milk from a milkman carrying vast drums of milk from a dairy farm, not from a tetra pack from a supermarket). It was so rampant that our school syllabus used to include how to use a lactometer ( to check if milk has been diluted) and chemical tests to detect argemone in mustard.
    Things are getting a lot better now on that front with better procedures in place. However, now the problem has shifted to what you guys call misleading advertisements without a breach of legal protocol. Words like “organic” or ” free range” are thrown around randomly. Clean, medicinal-looking packaging is given to “energy drinks” which are…..mostly sugar. Unless you really read the ingredient list carefully ( and know what all the terms mean), it can be really difficult to understand what’s actually in a packet of innocuous- looking food.

    • Sorted

      That’s so interesting, especially that the subject was touched on at school. It’s also really sad how you can’t trust people to deliver a product, you have to make sure yourself that it’s genuine. How do people sleep at night!?

      We agree – a lot of these energy drinks are just full of sugar and you can’t trust the packaging, you actually have to read the ingredients to see what you’re getting! It’s so misleading to a lot of people, but that’s their aim, to mislead you!

      • Sunanda_K

        There are still cases every year of people getting very sick with adulterated sweets during festival seasons.
        And a lot of vegan people don’t know that cochineal dye comes from bugs…..the ingredient lists can be super cryptic.

  3. Taheera

    I agree with Jamie, I would love to hear more about the marketing side of food fraud. From a language perspective, what is “good marketing” versus what is deliberate misleading, what is clever wording versus downright lying? The rhetoric of that would be fascinating to pull apart and dive into.

  4. Danny

    This has completely blown my mind. I never knew food Fraud was a thing, completely alien to me and now I feel annoyed and betrayed. I feel that if you have to word something differently to sell a product, then realy that is just another lie, a white lie is still a lie so branding something in a way as to not tell the whole truth is still deceitful. Also the point that James brought out about homemade foods is interesting. If I have bought mince from a butchers to make home made burgers, but I haven’t made the mince personaly myself, is that still a homemade burger? I ask because I own a burger van and I was going to do just that but now I’m not sure. And maybe there is a topic to discuss, why does Britain not full embrace food truck culture?

    • Sorted

      James did make a really good point! It would be interesting to see what people actually perceive as being homemade. In London we fully embrace the food trucks! We have areas designated to them when they have a full time plot and they’re delicious. Where about’s in the UK are you from?

  5. ChildOfStorm

    I don’t think, that I’ve been ever been mislead by a product – but I’ve heard of the horse-meat-scandal as well. It was quite a bit of an outcry here in Germany – maybe because our rule are otherwise so strikt? Actual food fraud might be a bigger problem in less “regulated” countries like america.
    Apropos america – maybe this could be a new podcast-topic: Do you think that worldwide operating food companies like Macdonalds or Starbucks are having an (negativ) impact on the local food diversity/culture? Everywhere you go you’ll find one of those – even in Cuba.

    • Sunanda_K

      That’s super interesting…. though in many countries (India included) Starbucks and McDonalds are the mid-priced option, NOT the cheap one. Here, there’s a lot of aspirational marketing done by these brands – they’re actually presented as the “posh” option to lower income groups.

  6. dottleddolly

    As far as I am aware I have never been duped by food, but some can be misleading. I was looking for some gluten free desserts for my aunt years ago and saw gluten free macaron shells for twice the price as normal ones, why were they twice the price? Normal macaron shells are gluten free anyway. I found this very misleading and felt that people were being taken advantage of as most people will not know what goes into a lot food anyway.

    • Sorted

      Wow, they were definitely taking advantage! It literally pays to be aware!

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