DATA DRIVEN VIEWPOINT: I am posting this story because I have never heard of food product counterfeiting before and wondered if other people in other parts of the country have heard of similar instances of this sort of deception. Most stories about counterfeit foods involve food imports. This is a case where a brand name product is purchased and repackaged here in the US. It raises lots of question about how something like this can happen, where a product is purchased in such bulk quantities for repackaging in an obviously disreputably operation without the knowledge of the brand name manufacturer. Note also that there was no local law enforcement investigation. If anyone knows of any similar situations please contact me in the comment section below. Thank you.
Counterfeit ketchup caper: Exploding bottles leave major mess in Dover
on October 18, 2012 at 7:22 AM, updated October 18, 2012 at 4:38 PM
DOVER — It looks like a grisly murder scene. Red splotches pooling on a warehouse floor. A rotten smell. Insects swarming. Crates knocked to the ground.
But no one died here.
This wasn’t carnage. This was condiment.
Inside a privately owned Dover warehouse are the remnants of an abandoned Heinz Tomato Ketchup counterfeiting scheme. The ketchup appears to be real but the labels on the plastic bottles are a fraud, according to a Heinz spokesman.
Company officials, who visited Dover last week, believe someone purchased traditional Heinz Ketchup and transferred it from large bladders into individual bottles labeled “Simply Heinz,” a premium variety made with sugar instead of high fructose corn sweetener.
The 7,000 square feet of space on Richboynton Avenue in Dover had hundreds of crates holding thousands of bottles of ketchup. Of course, without any quality control, it is impossible to know what, if anything, else was put in those bottles.
Heinz does not believe the scheme got too far.
“The site of this operation was abandoned and had produced only a small quantity of bottles, much of which was still on site,” said Michael Mullen, vice president of corporate & government affairs in an e-mail.
The thing is, you can’t just walk away from something like this. Tomatoes and vinegar, both acidic, combined with sugars, which ferment when left unattended in the heat, build up pressure inside the bottle and then … explode.
That leads to a pretty big mess and a feast for flies, which is what caught the attention of other tenants who rent space in the warehouse, Dover Public Safety Director Richard Rosell said. If this all sounds a bit unusual, it is.
“These incidences are rare for Heinz,” Mullen said. “As the world’s leading manufacturer of ketchup, Heinz has stringent manufacturing and packaging practices in place to ensure the safety of consumers.”
Dover police are not yet involved. They are aware of the situation, Rosell said, but nothing has been reported stolen.
Heinz is working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Criminal Investigation, Mullen said.
“As a company dedicated to food safety and quality, Heinz will not tolerate illegal repackaging of our products and we will prosecute to the fullest extent of the law anyone who engages in such illicit behavior,” Mullen said.
The space is leased by Wholesome Foods, LLC, which is registered to Joseph Carrera, according to state records. A man answering Carrera’s cell phone repeatedly hung up when he learned a reporter was on the on the line. Voice messages were not returned.
Rutgers University food science professor Don Schaffner said counterfeit food operations in the U.S. are rare, though scams have popped up with greater frequency internationally in recent years.
In 2008, a chemical used to make concrete, fertilizer and plastics called melamine sickened 300,000 children in China and killed at least six infants when it was used as filler in Chinese milk and formula products.
Schaffner said it’s impossible to know what health consequences the counterfeit ketchup could have caused without knowing what kind of filler might have been added, but said it’s unlikely someone making counterfeit food would follow even basic food safety regulations that govern food products in the U.S.
“If you’re opening ketchup containers and pouring ketchup into other bottles, God knows what you’re diluting it with,” Schaffner said. “Ketchup is thick, so it’s possible you would not use a food-grade ingredient to replicate that texture. I can’t begin to imagine how bad it could be.”
Star-Ledger staff writer Jessica Calefati contributed to this report.
This article has been changed to reflect the following correction: It was incorrectly reported that acids ferment, causing ketchup bottles to explode if left in the heat. Sugars ferment, not acids.
Counterfeit food becoming a bigger problem
The most recent case involved vodka laced with methanol which left some college students in England with permanent vision damage.
Something that just popped up recently. Garden-variety tomato being marketed as the more expensive heirloom ones.