Recent operations have uncovered 11,000 tons of potentially hazardous food and 264,000 gallons of counterfeit beverages.

By Gillie Houston
Updated May 24, 2017
© David Murray / Getty Images / Dorling Kindersley

From sugar cut with fertilizer, to olives painted with chemicals to make them look greener, to bread laced with something called potassium bromate: Toxic foods are a major world issue, according to the international police agencies Interpol and Europol.

The Times has the story: Every year, criminals make millions of dollars selling these illegal food products to consumers. Recent operations by the agencies have uncovered 11,000 tons of potentially hazardous food and 264,000 gallons of counterfeit beverages—record highs.

Interpol and Europol have recently seized tainted goods in 57 countries, including Indonesia, where 154 pounds of chicken intestines soaked in formalin (an illegal food additive) were discovered. But the issue certainly doesn't stop there. In countries like Greece, Britain and Burundi, the concoction of illicit alcohol has been on the rise, while in other places like Sudan and Italy, common ingredients are chemically manipulated to make them more appealing and cheaper to produce.

Police and customs agents in Romania, Lithuania, and Hungary have found counterfeit sweets and chocolates, as well as nonalcoholic sparkling wines that were intended to be sold in West Africa. And in Australia, agents found a shipment of peanuts relabeled as pine nuts, which could have proved deadly to someone with a severe peanut allergy.

Some of these illegal activities are hard to believe: In China, two workshops were found to be producing fake jellyfish—an extremely popular ingredient along China's southern and eastern coasts—by mixing chemicals that had dangerously high levels of aluminum. And just this week, the Food Safety Standards Authority of India found potassium bromate, a chemical the agency says can cause cancer, in 84 percent of bread samples collected in Delhi, according to the BBC .

"Fake and dangerous food and drink threaten the health and safety of people around the world, who are often unsuspectingly buying these potentially dangerous foods," Interpol's Michael Ellis tells The New York Times. Ellis runs the agency's unit on illicit and counterfeit goods, and is leading the charge on the global crack-down.

While Ellis and his global police force are putting forth new, unprecedented efforts to reduce the amount of toxic food in the global food supply as quickly as possible, for now it might just be safest to steer clear of the jellyfish.