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Read the Label: Faux Food, or Food Poisoning?


Fillers, bacteria available at your local grocer.

Add fake food to the usual run of inflated resumes, hair transplants and plastic-surgery-created beauty.

The phony grub in question isn't quite sawdust - but it substitutes cheap ingredients or techniques for the real thing, then sells it at a premium price. Call it a greedy (and illegal) ode to the bottom line.

The solution: Read the label, know your retailer - and beware.

Salmon is the easiest food to fake, Consumer Reports says.

The magazine tested 23 salmon fillets billed as "fresh caught" in 2005 and 2006 and found only 10 were wild salmon.

The difference: Wild salmon gets its distinctive color from the plankton they eat in the ocean while pen-raised salmon gets its hue from dye added to the food pellets they're fed. Cooked, wild salmon keeps its natural hue - but the color of the farm-raised fish often leaks out. It's almost enough to make you take up goldfish-swallowing.

Some Chinese food companies have been nabbed adding melamine to pet food to boost the level of protein. Just one problem: It's an organic compound often combined with formaldehyde to create melamine resin, a synthetic polymer that's fire-resistant and heat-tolerant. In 2007, vets blamed melamine for renal failure in cats and dogs, killing many.

Melamine was also found in wheat gluten exports and toothpaste.

USA Today reports that olive oil can be diluted with vegetable oil. There's no health risk, but you're not getting what you paid for.

Cane sugar or high-fructose corn syrup can be used to dilute honey, but the adulteration is easily detected. Smart crooks quickly moved on to beet sugar, which is harder to spot. Water can be added to maple syrup to increase volume.

But relax. If you want a dose of tradition, there's always the bacon double cheeseburger, an American icon that's cheap and therefore doesn't attract trickery.

Meanwhile, there's good, old-fashioned food poisoning to fret about.

The Food and Drug Administration has traced an outbreak of salmonella poisoning to a plant in Georgia owned by Peanut Corporation of America. General Mills (GIS), Kroger (KR) and Safeway (SWY) have joined food companies and retailers yanking items containing peanut butter and peanut paste. The outbreak has killed at least 6 people and sickened about 470 others in 43 states, causing widespread panic.

Now might be the time to paraphrase Homer Simpson: "Melamine and salmonella, ummmmmmm!"
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