Prosecco and Mozzarella di Bufala: Combating Counterfeiting Online

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For as long as there has been an Italian wine industry there have been people trying to take advantage of the hardworking producers throughout the country by creating counterfeit products and trying to pass them off as the real thing in order to make a quick bit of money.

Not only can this lead to the original producer’s reputation being damaged, as poor quality products get associated with them if nobody catches onto the counterfeiting operation, but it also harms consumers, who can never be 100 percent sure about what has gone into the counterfeited product and are often unaware that they have been scammed at all.

While the internet has allowed for more choice and variety in products than ever before, it has also opened up an even larger audience to counterfeiters. Furthermore, it can often be difficult to determine whether or not a product is fake just by looking at a picture on the web, making it even harder to figure out where it came from.

Here we will be looking at a couple of examples of forgeries that have managed to catch people out in recent years, in addition to offering some tips on how you can protect yourself from purchasing fakes and counterfeit wines and cheeses when you are shopping online.

The British Prosecco Saga

Prosecco has become one of the most popular wines in the world, with over 400 million bottles being sold throughout 2016. There is perhaps no place where the wine is more widely popular than in Great Britain, where it has become a staple of celebrations and evenings out with friends.

With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that counterfeiters have started trying to take advantage of this popularity by serving up fake Prosecco to the British public.

The most recent incident occurred in 2015, when it was discovered that fake Prosecco was being sold on tap in a lot of pubs that were none the wiser that the wines they were giving to consumers were not the actual wines from Prosecco producers. The forgery was even more convincing, as these wines were all sold online as well and each carried a false DOC certification, convincing most of their authenticity.

Following a joint inspection by both the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Italian Inspectorate, the sales were eventually halted, but the incident highlights just how easy it is for even experienced enthusiasts and publicans to get drawn into a fake product.

The Fake Mozzarella Scam

Just the year previous, a similar scam was uncovered in Italy involving the sale of fake cheeses. Much like with the wine industry, cheese is another massively popular foodstuff that carries with it a certain reputation when offered by some of the top producers in the world.

In this case, it was found that the cheeses, which were primarily Mozzarella di Bufala, were being sold while carrying the prestigious DOP label, which works for cheese in much the same way as the DOC label does for wine.

A bust on a factory found that the scam was very widely circulated. Located right in the heartland of Mozzarella production, it was discovered that the factory making the cheese was mixing both cow and buffalo milk to create the product, before passing it off as something that it clearly wasn’t. Italian authorities even went so far as to claim the cheese was a threat to public health and a total of 13 people were placed under house arrest in the wake of the scandal.

The real danger here is that the fake cheese actually offered a genuine threat to the public. Investigators ran tests on milk samples that were being used to make the cheese and found that they contained over 2,000 times more bacteria than it authorised by the DOP.

The factory and its sales points were both shut down, with an Italian prosecutor pointing out the threat that this increased level of bacteria offered to unsuspecting consumers. Furthermore, the factory also damaged the reputation of one of the primary cheese producing areas in the country.

How Can You Protect Yourself?

As revealed by the size and scale of these operations, it is often very difficult to determine whether the cheese and wines you purchase are legitimate. Many people were taken in by these scams, which both ended up posing threats to public health due to little being known about the actual production techniques used to create the counterfeits.

So what can you do to protect yourself from such products, especially when you are shopping online? Here are a few tips that should help you out.

Always Do Your Research

Before you purchase from any online vendor it is crucial that you take a little bit of time to do some research and find out exactly who they are and what other people are saying about them. As a general rule, the larger the online presence of the retailer, the more likely it is that they will be selling legitimate products. Look for chatter about the store on forums and spend a little time on social media to make sure the company keeps in touch with its customers.

Check For Contact Information

A simple trick for determining the authenticity of an online store is to check the contact information. Transparency is crucial, particular in the cheese and wine markets, and real stores will display their contact information prominently on their websites while also making it easy for customers to get in touch. Be wary of any sites that don’t do this and steer clear of any that don’t respond to any messages that you might send.

The Antitrust Authority

If you are still uncertain, there are organizations out there that are actively combating the issue of counterfeiting right now that you can get in touch with. These include the Antitrust Authority, whose efforts have helped a number of consumers. You may also consider getting in touch with the producers cited on the products to confirm that the retailer you are buying from is actually a trusted vendor.

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