Made in Italy? New smartphone app targets foreign fakes

A new, free smartphone app aims to protect the 'Made in Italy' brand by helping consumers spot the difference between genuine Italian produce and foreign fakes.

Made in Italy? New smartphone app targets foreign fakes
This pasta may be lovely and colourful, but is it Italian? Now you can find out. Photo: Katrin Gilger/AFP

Shoppers can scan products' bar codes to find out if they are really of Italian origin. The app, created by non-profit organization Reliabitaly, can be used in Italy or abroad, and also gives information about how the item was made.

“The aim is to protect and preserve the global prestige of 'Made in Italy' products,” its creators explained.

The app is a step towards combating 'Made in Italy' fraud; cheaper foreign products being passed off as authentically Italian. And Reliability has committed to “reinvest 100 percent of revenues in the promotion of Italian countries”.

Italy has more products than any other country – 221 – which are protected by the EU's geographic labels of origin (DOP), including buffalo mozzarella, prosecco, and Modena balsamic vinegar. Under EU laws, products receiving DOP status must be produced according to specifications and in the designated region – but this can be tough to regulate.

The production of these foods, including Italian wines, balsamic vinegar and cured meats, involves 300,000 businesses and is worth an estimated €13.5 billion a year, so protecting them is crucial to the national economy.

Online sales of foreign fake parmesan alone cost the country €60 million each year, according to Italy's Agricultural Ministry. The ministry has worked with online sales platforms including eBay to crack down on the counterfeit foods.

READ MORE: How the grate parmesan scam costs Italy millions

The problem is particularly acute in the olive oil industry, with Italian farmers struggling with competition from lower-priced, lower-quality foreign oils, which are often passed off as Italian. The standard of extra-virgin olive oil in Italy is strictly regulated, and farmers have to follow a lengthy process to ensure their oil complies.

Last year, Italy toughened laws over olive oil packaging, making it compulsory to state on packaging when non-Italian olives had been used, and banning 'misleading' use of Italian symbols such as the national flag.

Consumer organization Coldiretti warned last September that olive oil fraud had seen a record increase. Their report claimed that there was more Spanish than Italian oil on Italy's supermarket shelves, and that labels denoting the origin were either absent or almost impossible to read, due to very small writing or awkward placement.

But the new app won't just crack down on food fraud. Consumers can also check the origins of clothes, accessories and other items that claim to be Italian, such as leather or products purporting to be made of Merano glass.

The app's database is still a work in progress, as it's up to manufacturers to decide whether to sign up. However, Reliabitaly has encouraged Italian brands to do so in order to tackle the foreign fakes.

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La Bella Vita: Free Italian museum tickets, Sanremo, and real spaghetti carbonara

From seeing Italy's best sights for free to avoiding crimes against Italian food, new weekly newsletter La Bella Vita offers you an essential starting point for eating, talking, drinking and living like an Italian.

La Bella Vita: Free Italian museum tickets, Sanremo, and real spaghetti carbonara

La Bella Vita is our regular look at the real culture of Italy – from language to cuisine, manners to art. This new newsletter will be published weekly and you can receive it directly to your inbox, by going to newsletter preferences in ‘My Account’ or follow the instructions in the newsletter box below.

The cold weather and grey skies mean February is the month when I’m most tempted to stay at home and keep warm, preferably with an Italian hot chocolate. But it’s a shame to stay in when there’s so much to do and see in Italy, even at this time of year.

Carnival season officially kicks off this weekend, bringing much-needed colour and joy to towns and cities across Italy at what would otherwise be a pretty dull time of year. The most famous Carnival of all is of course in Venice, and this year’s edition promises a return to its former grand scale after three years of limited celebrations.

If you’re thinking of attending this year, here’s our quick guide to the events and what to expect:

Venice Carnival: What to expect if you’re attending in 2023

A masked reveller wearing a traditional carnival costume In St Mark's Square, Venice

The 2023 Venice Carnival will start with a floating parade down the Grand Canal on February 4th. Photo by Andrea PATTARO / AFP

Another reason to get out and about this weekend is Domenica al Museo or ‘free museum Sundays’, when museums and other sites open their doors ticket-free on the first Sunday of every month.

As admission to major historical monuments and museums in Italy often costs upwards of €15 per person, there are big savings to be made and the free Sundays scheme is understandably popular among both tourists and residents.

Free entry applies to hundreds of state-run museums, archaeological parks and monuments, including world-famous sites like the Colosseum, Pompeii, Florence’s Galleria dell’Accademia, the Reggia di Caserta and Trieste’s Miramare Castle. See further details in our article:

What you need to know about Italy’s free museum Sundays

There is however at least one good reason to stay in and watch some Italian TV: The Sanremo Music Festival returns on Tuesday, February 7th, and it will likely be the main topic of conversation all week.

If you’re a fan of Eurovision, you’re pretty much guaranteed to love it. But some people don’t find the appeal of the show immediately obvious, to put it mildly.

So what is it about the festival that pulls together an entire nation, regardless of whether they fall into the ‘love it’ or ‘hate it’ camp? We looked at just why this 73-year-old song contest is such an Italian institution.

Why is the Sanremo music festival so important to Italians?

In the latest international Italian food controversy, Italian media reacted with anger and dismay this week to a recipe published in the New York Times for ‘tomato carbonara’, which recommended adding tomato sugo along with the eggs, and replacing pork cheek and pecorino with bacon and parmesan – an adaptation which was described as “provocative”, “disgusting”, and a “declaration of war”.

For anyone who doesn’t want to traumatise their Italian dinner guests or risk sparking a diplomatic incident, here’s the classic recipe plus a look at the rules to follow when making a real Roman-style carbonara:

The ten unbreakable rules for making real pasta carbonara

However, you might be surprised to hear that adding cream – or tomato – to your carbonara recipe isn’t actually the worst food crime you could commit according to Italians.

From fruity pizza toppings to spaghetti bolognese, an international study revealed which of the most common international ‘adaptations’ are seen as most and least offensive.

RANKED: The 11 worst food crimes you can commit according to Italians

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Is there an aspect of the Italian way of life you’d like to see us write more about on The Local? Please email me at [email protected]