The latest research, commission by Which?, revealed a quarter of samples of dried oregano tested contained other ingredients.
These ingredients were found to make up between 30% and 70% of the oregano products tested.
The study had unearthed a “major problem” within the herbs and spices sector, claimed Elliott, who is the author of an influential report into food fraud commissioned by the UK government following the 2013 horsemeat scandal.
“Based on intelligence received, we decided to determine if there are issues with the authenticity of oregano supplied in the UK and Ireland,” said Elliott, who is also director of Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s University Belfast.
“Clearly we have identified a major problem and it may well reflect issues with other herbs and spices that enter the British Isles through complex supply chains. Much better controls are needed to protect the consumer from purchasing heavily contaminated products.”
The study found that 19 of the 78 samples of dried oregano looked at contained ingredients other than oregano.
Samples were bought from a range of shops in the UK and Ireland and from online retailers.
Food fraud cases
The test identified compounds by their chemical composition. The results from the study will now be shared with the Food Standards Agency (FSA).
The Seasoning and Spice Association (SSA) said the use of large quantities of bulking substances instead of oregano was “unacceptable” and undermined the efforts of many suppliers to ensure the integrity of the supply chain.
Manage food fraud more effectively
“To ensure the quality and integrity of products, SSA members have in place a series of fully implemented process controls to protect themselves and ultimately their customers from fraud,” the SSA said in a statement.
“We are working with the FSA and retailers to ensure that the most up to date knowledge and good manufacturing practices are shared more widely to ensure more companies can identify and manage the risk of food fraud more effectively.”
Current methodologies to identify the presence of undeclared substances can include microscopy, organoleptic and analytical testing of volatile oil content, it added.
Which? executive director, Richard Lloyd, said: “It’s impossible for any shopper to tell, without the help of scientists, what herbs they’re actually buying.
“Retailers, producers and enforcement officers must step up checks to stamp out food fraud.”
Last year Which? research discovered 40% of the lamb takeaways tested contained other meat and one in six of the fish bought from chip shops turned out to not be what its researchers had ordered.
Food fraud costs UK food manufacturers £11.2bn a year, according to the University of Portsmouth.
Meanwhile, the food fraud will be on the agenda at the Food Manufacture Group’s one-day food safety conference on September 29.
Taking place at the Lowry in Manchester, the conference will take a whole supply chain look at food safety and integrity.
For more information, and to book, click here.