Counterfeit Ketchup Scheme Uncovered

Unattended bottles of ketchup have created an explosive situation in Dover, N.J. — both figuratively and literally.

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H.J. Heinz Co. products are displayed at a grocery store June 12, 2003 in Chicago, Illinois.

Unattended bottles of ketchup have created an explosive situation in Dover, N.J. — both figuratively and literally. Warehouse tenants discovered an abandoned counterfeit ketchup enterprise in their building after bottles of the product created a mess that attracted flies, the Star-Ledger reports.

Dover Public Safety Director Richard Rosell told the newspaper that renters in the private warehouse called attention to the bug problem, which was traced to a 7,000 square foot space housing thousands of bottles of a familiar red condiment. The insect-drawing mess stemmed from packages that had exploded after sugars fermented alongside acidic tomatoes and vinegar and built up pressure in the bottles, the Star-Ledger notes.

Heinz officials visited Dover last week and told the Star-Ledger that while the ketchup seems real, the packaging is deceptive. The company believes whoever was running the operation purchased vats of traditional Heinz Ketchup and transferred it into individual bottles for “Simply Heinz,” a more expensive variety. It is not known whether anything else was put into the bottles.

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It appears that the fraudulent project was probably not a resounding success.

“The site of this operation was abandoned and had produced only a small quantity of bottles, much of which was still on site,” Michael Mullen, vice president of corporate and government affairs for Heinz, said in an e-mail the Star-Ledger. Mullen wrote that such incidents are normally rare because Heinz maintains rigorous production and packaging procedures to protect the sauce.

Although the Dover police are not yet involved, Mullen told the Star-Ledger that Heinz has teamed up with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Criminal Investigation to get to the bottom of the scheme.

“As a company dedicated to food safety and quality, Heinz will not tolerate illegal repackaging of our products and we will prosecute to the fullest extent of the law anyone who engages in such illicit behavior,” Mullen said to the newspaper.

The warehouse is leasing the space to a tenant called Joseph Carrera, and a man answering Carrera’s cell phone reportedly hung up on the Star-Ledger journalist who attempted to contact him.

Although stories of phony food products are relatively rare, Food Safety News reported last year that a third of honey in the United States may be tainted with antibiotics, heavy metals and other dilutors. The Huffington Post notes that contaminated olive oil often makes its way onto supermarket shelves.

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