/ Food & Drink, Health

Will a new hotline crack down on food fraud?

Junk food cartons with skull and crossbones, symbolising food fraud

Food Standards Scotland has teamed up with charity Crimestoppers to launch a food fraud hotline for Scotland. So can this hotline crack down on this crime?

The main types of food fraud are:

  • Food that is unfit or harmful (the kind that makes you unwell)
  • Food that is not authentic (mislabelled or missold), or
  • Food that is stolen and/or illegally slaughtered (like meat or wild game)

In 2014, as part of our Stop Food Fraud campaign, we bought 45 portions of fish labelled as haddock or cod from fish and chip shops in Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow. We tested the fish DNA to find out what was really in it. We found two portions in Manchester that were being sold as cod were, in fact, haddock. In Glasgow, five sold as haddock were actually whiting. Whiting easily passes for cod or haddock and is a cheaper fish, often used in fish meal and pet food. But that doesn’t make it right.

Also in 2014, we undertook exclusive DNA testing on lamb takeaways. What we found shocked us. Of the 60 meals we tested, 24 had meat other than lamb in them, and seven had no lamb at all! Our results are not isolated cases. Trading Standards and Environmental Health Officers in Falkirk, Leicester, Warwickshire and West Yorkshire have found similar levels of fraud in lamb takeaways.

Will better reporting lead to safer food?

Food Standards Scotland (FSS) was set up in the aftermath of the horsemeat scandal (and our campaign about it) to ensure the food we eat is safe and authentic. That incident – and current worries about Campylobacter in chicken – have thrown a spotlight on food fraud. All the companies involved in getting food to our tables are vulnerable to this crime, so this news is welcome.

However, not all companies supplying food to Scotland are based in Scotland. So it is crucial that Scottish agencies (such as FSS and Police Scotland) work with other similar UK and EU agencies to make the most of the intelligence they get in Scotland. Only then will we be able to tackle food crime no matter where the food has come from or where it is sold.

What will the new hotline do?

In September 2015, a new Scottish Food Crime Incident Unit was created to tackle food fraud. To do this it will keep a look out for dishonest food suppliers. The new hotline will be the first port of call for people who have tip-offs, so that the Unit can tackle any crimes head-on.

The hotline will be solely for people who want to raise the alarm anonymously to FSS. As well as being available to the public, this will be a much needed tool for whistleblowers working in the food and drink industry.

So if you happen to know about a food crime in Scotland, or you’ve seen something that looks dodgy, then the hotline number is: 0800 028 7926. It’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

This isn’t the only way for people in Scotland to report food fraud, but it should be a much quicker and easier way to report it. Most importantly, it is totally confidential.

The National Food Crime Unit has also launched Food Crime Confidential, where people in the rest of the UK can report food crime over the phone (0207 276 8787) or by email (foodcrime@foodstandards.gsi.gov.uk).

Why is food law enforcement important?

We rely on good law enforcement when it comes to keeping our food safe – the consequences of dodgy or fake food can range from unpleasant to dangerous.

Our Scottish research from February 2015 found that people have high expectations of food policing. Of those surveyed, 99% said they thought it’s important that local councils enforce food safety rules and 95% in the case of food labelling rules.

We need to have enough controls in place to police food law. The FSS, local councils and others must take the lead in spotting risks and making sure that their checks are enough to keep food safe.

So what do you think about food fraud? Are you worried about the safety of your food? Do you think this hotline will help cut down on the amount of food fraud in Scotland?


“Fraudulent food” may be a worry but what about the stuff we are sold today, in high street supermarkets? Take bacon for instance? There is nothing fraudulent about that is there? Is there? Grill some on a George Foreman and see the absolutely disgusting, watery, rusty-coloured liquid which comes out of it – which otherwise we would consume!. The point I am making is this. The established and supposedly legal food provision industry has cut so many corners and changed the mode of food preparation so much – all to cut costs ( in order to increase board-room bonuses? ), not necessarily to give the customer a better product. Start the campaign with inspecting supermarket shelves as opposed to kebab shops or Indian takeaways.

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I can’t help but feel that the standards will continue to be poor as long as premises are permitted to remain operational after failing the food standards basic inspection. Premises in Scotland can fail an inspection and continue to operate while awaiting a re-inspection which according to the Food Standards Agency’s own site can be a period of a year or more. If a car fails it MOT it goes of the road until it is fit for purpose and that is only certified after being re-tested. This principal should be applied to all food outlets, if they are not fit for purpose then they are a threat to public safety and should be dealt with accordingly .

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Angus O'Henley says:
1 September 2016

I would refer you to the growing number of fast food establishments on the Paisley Road West ,covering Craigton and Cardonald. Were found to be in breach of legislation and all allowed to carry on trading whilst awaiting a secondary examination and it was the local press who reported this matter. If you care to walk along this road you will find that the traders are using the story as a form of advertising e.g. we are now in possession of a food hygiene certificate allowing us to carry on trading !!
Throughout Scotland I have found fish restaurants selling what is claimed to be haddock and it was not, in some cases it was Whiting and in other cases it was Vietnamese fish I reported this to Local Authority Environmental Health and to Trading Standards and none of them had the courtesy to reply let alone say what action they took if any.

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Duncan,No idea why you think I responded with a thumbs down for your reply to me? I did not react. However as you ask me to respond I would say that a system that promotes mediocrity rather than excellence appears to me in place. A failure to meet standards for whatever reason is surely a cause for concern and action. Which readers can easily access the food standards site themselves and judge for themselves whether they want to use establishments that don’t tick all the boxes.

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In Wales premises can gain one out of a possible five stars and still continue trading. They can be (and are) closed down without notice in the case of suspected poisoning of patrons, but it’s not as straightforward an area as some might think.

And the problem I mentioned at the outset still remains: hotlines provide opportunities for those who want to damage a business. In small communities, this is a real and ever-present risk, especially in holiday resorts, where competition becomes fierce in the off-season.

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I agree hotlines as such are an excellent idea. What I wonder about is why they’re confidential?

I would definitely use such a hotline if I thought the situation was a danger to public health or if unacceptable food was being sold by mislabelling (e.g poor hygeine, horsemeat being passed off as “beef” etc)

Blacksky says:
1 September 2016

Its worth a try-and better than doing nothing.

I don’t eat out very often, but if I thought that I was being served something which I knew was not what it was described as, then I certainly would report it.

I think the help line is a good thing and if I thought there was something not right about food I bought I would certainly report it. I have to say that if I had bought whiting in a batter I would not have known it wasn’t haddock. I think a problem in this country is we don’t really like to complain unlike Americans who have no problems complaining, and that is something I admire about them you do not pull the wool over their eyes for long.

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Douglas says:
The reporting telephone No would have to be clearly identified in each premise if this proposal is to have the desired effect

Jim Brown says:
2 September 2016

I believe this will go a long way in cutting down the ammount of fraud that occurs. This can only happen if the FFS has the resources and backbone to follow the calls up?

Another concern that I have is: ………As we are supposed to be a country that said no to GMO in our foodchain; I would like to see food contents labeling showing this. At the moment this is not the case. For example; soya. A lot of this foodstuff is grown in South America; which happens to grow a lot of GMO crop.
A lot of vegertarian/vegan food actually helping to produce GM food!!!!

jean watt says:
2 September 2016

we are quite picky wine drinkers and tend to stick to known brands. finding the fridge empty we walked to our local convenience store were we purchased one of our usual favourites. both of us commented it wasnt right , we didnt have a second glass the rest went down the sink. I want to know im getting what im paying for and to be able to report suspicious goods easily

I totally agree with the sentiment behind your campaign, but it is difficult for the average customer to know if there is a problem with the goods on sale . For example I doubt very much if I could tell the difference between horse meat and bovine meat.

If every food store had a large sign with the food report details in large letters it might stop stores buying in food NOT for human consumption and if stores are caught selling other than what is in the packet there must be penalties to fund further food protection for the customer.

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many years ago when I was a van boy for mothers pride a Indian restaurant we delivered to used to buy cases of KENO MEAT for there curries not just one or two but 10 /12 every week in AYR

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Colin says:
5 September 2016

The hotline may encourage whistleblowers working within the industry to report bad practice.
As an ordinary customer, I would report any concerns to local trading standards and/or environmental health.

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Thank you for sharing this Duncan.

Well all this is quite speculative, unless if fraud is proven, the perpetrators are dealt harshly. Business shall be shut and according the seriousness of off a jail term shall be considered. Current situation where business is shut and the person in questions starts new one in the same field is shambles and waste of public money for first prosecution. If such a serious fraud as meet swapping the consequences shall be exemplary otherwise nobody is safe. So far I do not see this kind of attitude quality of food shall be in focus. because it will safe money on NHS in long run. State should be more proactive and not cut resources of FSS.

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I think we have been the victims of food fraud.

We went to this Thai restaurant about 6 months ago and the food was excellent with the salt and pepper squid one of the best I have ever had.

Last night we went there again and ordered exactly the same food and did not overindulge, sharing 2 starters, 2 mains, 1 rice plus 2 drinks each and overall enjoyed the meal.

There was something odd about the texture of the salt and pepper squid in crispy batter served with a chilling dipping sauce. I had a good look at the last piece and inside the batter there was like a very thin string of something slightly chewy with other fishy stuff. Squid version of scampi was what came to mind. Dipped in the chilli sauce it was edible.

I won’t paste them here, but a search for fake squid/calamari when I got home brought up some very unsavoury results. It seems adulterated squid/calamari is on the rise as there has apparently been a dramatic fall in catches of sought-after Illex squid.
We could have had this:

But by the time we got home, we both felt very bloated and uncomfortable, very dry mouths presumably from MSG and had an uncomfortable night. A good dose of milk of magnesia at 3am worked wonders.

So I suppose every time I order squid or calamari in the future, I will be asking if it is genuine 100% squid. Added to: please can I have my meal on a real plate (hate wooden boards and slate), no lemon in the water, does it contain wheat or dairy, it is so much easier to eat at home.

Oh, and find a new Thai restaurant.