I’m sure that you’re as excited as I am that today (7th September 2016) is National Salami Day. Give me a plate of assorted cold cuts and a copy of the Racing Post and I am in heaven. But on this most illustrious of days, how confident should I be that what I’m eating is exactly what it says on the label?
The word ‘salami’ comes from an amalgamation of the Italian words ‘sal’ for ‘salt’ and ‘ame’ for ‘end’ or ‘all’ – so the word literally means ‘all kinds of salted meat’. Although some producers may take that meaning quite literally, the original process for producing Italian salami should be the one defining factor of an authentic product that is ‘made in Italy’. Unfortunately, without government protection it’s far too easy for food producers to stamp misleading claims of origin onto the labels. But that could be the least of the worries for food brands...
There have been a number of examples recently where the contents within foodstuff does not necessarily match the packaging. The scandal earlier this year in Italy surrounding the seizure of over 9,000 bottles of cheap Prosecco wine that had been labelled as Moët & Chandon Champagne − which had a street value of around €350,000 − underlines how technology has changed the face of food and drink counterfeiting. It’s now easier than ever to print high-quality labels that disguise the low-cost ingredients.
Expensive organic honey? Perhaps, or is it just normal honey mixed with fructose corn syrup or rice sugar? Extra virgin olive oil? Maybe, or is it a mix of a number of different oils? Sergio Tirro, a food fraud investigator within the Italian police, demonstrated live on the 60 Minutes program that mixing normal olive oil with sunflower oil and a few flavoring agents resulted in something that passed as the real deal. And of course there are the ongoing issues of fraudulent Parmesan cheese, where the US FDA has found certain brands of the cheese that don’t contain any Parmesan at all.
Such counterfeiting actually has its own title – economically motivated adulteration (EMA). EMA can refer to any act that results in the changing of the weight of a product by adding a lower quality ingredient to fake labeling. Diluting alcohol with water (or worse), adding chemicals to boost the protein content of a food, or not adding all the ingredients to a label are all good examples. There’s even a database of EMA incidents, updated by the University of Minnesota. According to its database, there have been around 25 separate incidents relating to EMA of meat products.
Whilst there are now strict regulations in this country about the labeling of foodstuff, both online and offline retailers now have to take extra precautions to stop products entering the retail chain with the purpose of deceiving the general public. The issues that the producers of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese or Champagne face are starting to creep into other products, including ‘Italian salami’. The issue has got to a point where Italian farmers marched, with their pigs, on parliament a few years ago to protest about the lack of protection for their salamis and hams.
So, before you join me in tucking into a big plate of Italian antipasti to mark National Salami Day, just take a moment to make sure you know where your salted meat came from.