25 Insane Food Scandals That Actually Happened

Posted by , Updated on April 22, 2024

In simpler times, most families ate whatever came off their farm and sold the rest. However, in the modern age, most everyone gets food from the supermarket. With large production lines pumping out food for the masses, problems are almost inevitable. While most scandals have been harmless, in rare cases, food contamination has lead to death. Curious about what issues have cropped up over the years? Here are 25 insane food scandals that actually happened!



Rotting Frozen Meat in China

SteakSource: http://www.nbcnews.com/news/china/china-seized-rotting-frozen-meat-1970s-smuggling-crackdown-n380756

In 2015, there was a major crackdown on meat smugglers in China. In one bust, they found $500 million worth of meat that was way past its expiration date, some dating back to 1970! Often, the smugglers wouldn’t refrigerate the meat, causing it to thaw and freeze several times between shipments.


Bottled Tap Water

bottled waterSource: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2190027/Asda-Tesco-selling-tap-water-bottled-water-confusing-customers.html

People who buy bottled water usually do so thinking it’s at least filtered and not coming from the faucet. However, many water bottle companies don’t even filter their water even if it does come from tap water. You might want to think twice before shelling out the cash for a certified plastic bottle.


Krispy Kreme Donut Club

krispy kremeSource: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2015/02/17/krispy-kreme-kkk-event-apology/23551235/

In England, a Krispy Kreme advertised a donut club they were running called “KKK Wednesday.” Their abbreviation stood for “Krispy Kreme Klub,” but little did they know KKK also stands for a notorious racist gang in the United States. They quickly apologized for it and removed the ad.


Noodles with High Lead Levels in India

Maggi_masala_noodlesSource: http://fortune.com/nestle-maggi-noodle-crisis/

Nestle’s Maggi noodles had a huge market share in India until news broke out that they registered seven times the allowed amount of lead in the food. It killed their brand, resulting in multi-million dollar sales losses.


Beef Flavored Fries

Fries_cookingSource: http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=93386&page=1

Leave it to McDonald’s to sneak in foreign ingredients into things like French fries. Though most people would assume French fries is a vegetarian food, they would be wrong if they ate at McDonald’s. After being sued for fraudulent claims, McDonald’s came out admitting their french fries had a “trace amount” of beef flavoring. They include it in their nutritional information as “Natural flavor.”


Iraq Poison Grain Disaster


In 1971, the Middle East was undergoing a drought which almost became a famine. With Iraqi farmers wanting wheat, Mexico offered their high-yielding variety called “Mexipak.” To transfer the wheat across the ocean, they put a mercury-based fungicide on it. The wheat arrived late, way after planting season, and the Iraqi farmers didn’t know what to do with it. So, they fed it to their livestock and children. Before long, many people were rushing to the hospital because of mental illness. When word spread the wheat was bad, people threw it into the water, contaminating it and killing the wildlife. 459 people died and thousands of others suffered permanent brain damage.


OIive Oil Fraud

olive oilSource: http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2016/08/olive-oil-fake-larry-olmsted-food-fraud-usda/

If you have olive oil in your kitchen, you might want to double check it isn’t fake. It was discovered recently Agromafia’s in the Mediterranean have been hawking fake olive oil under the Extra Virgin olive oil type but diluting it with sunflower oil. The University of California-Davis researched olive oil off the shelf and discovered only 69 percent failed to meet international standards.


Beech-Nut Fake Apple Juice

beech nutSource: http://www.nytimes.com/1987/11/14/business/beech-nut-is-fined-2-million-for-sale-of-fake-apple-juice.html

In 1987, Beech-Nut got busted for selling essentially sugar water intended for babies when they claimed it was 100% Apple Juice. They had to pay a $2 million fine.


Subway Chicken Only 50% Real

subway chickenSource: http://www.foxnews.com/food-drink/2017/02/28/study-finds-subways-chicken-only-contains-about-50-percent-chicken-dna.html

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation did a study and discovered Subway’s chicken only contained 50% of chicken DNA. In contrast, chicken found at a butcher shop would be 100%. Researchers discovered Subway uses soy fillers to make up the rest of the 50%.


Just Mayo Inflated Sales

just mayoSource: http://www.foxnews.com/food-drink/2016/09/23/report-alleges-hampton-creek-faked-hundreds-thousands-in-sales-and-environmental-impact-claims.html

Environmentally friendly and vegan start-up Hampton Creek went under fire for inflating its sales of its product “Just Mayo” by buying back their own product. They bought back more of their product than they earned and used the numbers to fool investors.


Cumin Substituted with Nuts in Britain

cuminSource: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2015/02/14/nuts-cumin-food-scandal_n_6683200.html

A Foods Standard Agency probe discovered in Britain that the cumin on the shelves of supermarkets had undeclared traces of nuts. Due to a cumin shortage, many believe suppliers replaced the cumin with nuts to meet demand. Undeclared nuts put allergy sufferers at great risk.


Burger King and Horse Meat

burger kingSource: https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2013/01/24/burger-king-horsemeat/1861529/

While Burger King might claim to use 100% beef, that might not always be the case. After it was discovered trace amounts of horse DNA were found in the beef products of Burger King, they moved quickly to cut ties with the Irish meat supplier that shipped the partially horse filled product.


Mad Cow Disease Crisis

Mad_cowSource: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/chronology-of-mad-cow-crisis/

In 1986, Mad Cow disease was discovered in England. Since then, more and more came to light about the damage it can do to humans who consume the meat of cows with the disease, including the potential to contract Creutzfeldt Jakob disease. Many countries and companies banned England’s meat due to the crisis.


Fake Eggs Sold in China

rubber eggsSource: http://newsfeed.time.com/2012/11/06/how-to-make-a-rotten-egg/

In 2012, scammers in China sold eggs on the market cheaper than in the supermarket, but people who purchased them later discovered they were fakes. In order to make the eggs look real, the scam artists would create a mold and use resin, starch, coagulant, and pigments.


KFC Mystery Meat

KFCSource: https://www.forbes.com/sites/briansolomon/2014/10/07/kfc-yum-dragged-down-by-chinese-food-safety-scandal/#6d84920af735

In China, KFC was an unstoppable force in the market but their reputation took a big hit when it was discovered a meat supplier they used called Shanghai Husi Food Co used meat that fell to the ground and also mixed in fresh and expired meat together.


Quaker Oats Radioactive Oatmeal

quaker oatsSource: http://www.nytimes.com/1998/01/01/us/settlement-reached-in-suit-over-radioactive-oatmeal-experiment.html

A group of formers students at MIT was awarded a large settlement after it was discovered they were unwittingly fed radioactive oatmeal in the 1940s and 50s. More than over 100 students were fed the oatmeal as part of an experiment.


Exploding Watermelons in China

WatermelonSource: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/may/17/exploding-watermelons-chinese-farming

A farmer in China used a growth accelerator called forchlorfenuron on his watermelon crop too late in the season and was traumatized to find them exploded like landmines all over his field. While agriculturalists claim the chemical is not harmful to human health, because of their sensitive nature, it shouldn’t be used on watermelons.


Taco Bell Meat

taco bellSource: http://abcnews.go.com/Business/taco-bell-reveals-mystery-beef-ingredients/story?id=23514878

Not too many people were happy to discover Taco Bell’s meat was only 88% beef. On their website, Taco Bell admitted to it and stated they also put in FDA approved additives for flavor and texture.


Supermarket Chicken with Water and Additives

chickenSource: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/06/supermarket-frozen-chicken-breasts-water

At certain grocery stores like Aldi and Asda, frozen chicken breasts are pumped with water and additives in a process called “tumbling.” While the industry states the process makes the chicken more “succulent,” very few consumers know they’re purchasing a product with large quantities of water included.


Glow in the Dark Pork Found in China

femaSource: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/peoplesdaily/article-3389996/Chinese-man-shocked-meat-bought-market-GLOWING-blue-dark.html

A man in China discovered his pork meat glowing blue in the dark. He said it looked like fireflies. Researchers said it was likely the pork was fed a high amount of phosphorus and that anyone who sees this shouldn’t eat the meat.


Rat Meat Sold in China as Lamb

Rat_meatSource: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/04/world/asia/rat-meat-sold-as-lamb-in-china-highlights-fears.html

A gang of traders in China bought up a bunch of rat, fox, and minx flesh and then sold it as lamb. They doused the meat in gelatin, red pigments, and nitrates before selling it on the market. The Ministry of Public Security cracked down on the operation, and sixty-three people were arrested.


Hardee's Fresh Buns Scandal

hardeesSource: https://tribune.com.pk/story/923645/hardees-faces-heat-over-fresh-buns-advertisement/

When Hardee’s arrived in Pakistan in 2009, it released a series of ads, one of which was called “Fresh Buns.” In it, a woman’s hand is firmly grabbing two conveniently placed buns. The innuendo was not lost on anyone.


Pink Slime

pink slimeSource: http://www.kansascity.com/news/business/article471333/Derided-beef-product-once-referred-to-as-%E2%80%98pink-slime%E2%80%99-making-a-comeback.html

In 2012, ABC News did a report on “Lean Finely Textured Beef” and called it “Pink Slime,” resulting in a massive firestorm. The general public was disgusted, and fast food restaurants tried to distance themselves from the product even though the USDA defended it as being safe to consume. It crushed the industry, losing $400 million in sales and forcing them to shut down three plants. However, in recent years, the product has been making a comeback.


Mud Pepper

Spilled_PepperSource: http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/649755.shtml

Most people don’t think twice where their pepper comes from when they sprinkle it on their food, but in this case, it was probably smart to wonder. In China, a vendor was baking mud pies outside and then selling them as pepper. He said it wasn’t illegal because the fake seasoning wouldn’t kill people.


Lead Paprika

paprikaSource: http://articles.latimes.com/1994-10-11/news/wr-49091_1_paprika

In Hungary, paprika is a major spice which cooks use in many of their recipes. So, consider their horror when they found out dozens of people were dying due to lead laced paprika. The contamination was discovered in private paprika mills. The lead was apparently being used to make it look more appealing to consumers. Authorities arrested 60 suspects in total, but the damage had already been done with many customers requesting no paprika be used in their meals.

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