Understanding food crime – Protecting your business and customers
Following the fallout from the ‘horse-gate’ scandal’ in 2013, when the public were illegally sold products made with horse meat purporting to be beef, the Food Standards Agency has been closely observing the threat of food crime in the UK.
There are concerns that the current climate in the UK is exacerbating the potential for food crime. Although most of these criminals already operate within the food industry, there is emerging evidence of traditional OCGs (organised crime groups) becoming involved.
Why is the threat of food crime increasing?
There are several reasons put forward for this:
- A reduction in food safety inspections due to the COVID-19 pandemic has reduced intelligence on the ground to fight food crime.
- The cost of living crisis has fuelled both food businesses’ and the public’s demand for cheaper products.
- There is an increased demand for premium products by more affluent consumers pursuing health-conscious, environmentally aware or ethical lifestyles.
- Food businesses have suffered from a reduced supply of food commodities in the UK and turned to alternative suppliers.
I have not changed suppliers, why is this relevant to me?
Given the opportunity to earn huge profits from food crime at this current time, criminals appear to be targeting legitimate food supply chains. Food businesses and their suppliers need to be aware of this, to avoid becoming victims and losing their hard-earned reputations.
What are the main types of food crime?
The Food Standards Agency’s NFCU (National Food Crime Unit) focusses its work on seven main types of food crime:
- Theft – dishonestly obtaining food, drink or feed products to profit from their use or sale
- Illegal processing – slaughtering or preparing meat and related products in unapproved premises or using unauthorised techniques
- Waste diversion – illegally diverting food, drink or feed meant for disposal, back into the supply chain
- Adulteration – including a foreign substance which is not on the product’s label to lower costs or fake a higher quality
- Substitution – replacing a food or ingredient with another substance that is similar but inferior
- Misrepresentation – marketing or labelling a product to wrongly portray its quality, safety, origin or freshness
- Document fraud – making, using or possessing false documents with the intent to sell or market a fraudulent or substandard product
Which products used by food businesses are considered vulnerable?
- Grain – conventionally produced sold as organic
- Red meat – stolen and illicitly slaughtered animals, adulteration, false speciation
- Chicken – imported chicken misrepresented as UK chicken, outdated products
- Eggs – end of life eggs forward coded as fresh eggs
How can I reduce the risks from food crime?
The NFCU advises that all businesses, small and large, devise a counter-fraud strategy which details what is done to mitigate risks e.g. supplier checks, document checks, encouraging staff to report suspected incidents etc. You can give your customers confidence in your products by making them aware of your strategy.
The NFCU have a free online tool to help you assess your risks which can be found at:
Check that your suppliers also have a counter-fraud strategy and ask them to share it with you. Clarify the processes that they have in place and make sure that you are as confident in their measures as you are in your own.
If you have any suspicions of food crime, you can report it safely and confidentially to the NFCU, either online or by phone on 0207 276 8787.
Please contact Safer Food Scores if you would like us to ….