/ 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?

Comments
Guest
Keith Landles says:
1 September 2016

“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.

Guest

Your bacon supplier has got me worried Keith- I use a commercial microwave with a special type of plastic tray with raised edges leaving parallel valleys for the bacon to cook in two minutes (yes thats all the time it takes ) .The result is a very small amount of near transparent white fat but I always use top quality bacon and use back-bacon not the bacon with large amounts of fat. It tastes natural and with no “fatty ” after taste .

Guest

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 .

Guest

I am afraid you are wrong in your comment on Scotland Brod . If you know Scottish law then you will know local councils take care of food hygiene. In that case I have picked the biggest city council in Scotland covering a vast area – IE- Glasgow it has the most restaurants in Scotland for a start and the biggest population. Glasgow- food hygiene inspections > Remedial action notices > may be served in circumstances where URGENT action is required to ensure food safety > A Remedial Action Notice may PROHIBIT any activity which is giving rise to a food safety HAZARD and may even require the COMPLETE CESSATION of a food operation until urgent matters are addressed -IE closing the restaurant down IMMEDIATELY. It then goes on to list IMMEDIATE CLOSURE examples rodent infestation , no water in the premises , extremely poor hygiene practices OR UNACCEPTABLE practices or conditions on the premises , What you are talking about is MINOR infringements. I should add looking at the bottom of Glasgows webpage – they will be prosecuted and shut down immediately in cases of food poisoning and I have been in environmental health laboratories samples can , in an emergency , be rushed to their scientific staff who are called out if late in the day for forensic examination .

Guest
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.

Guest

BROD-As I presented accurate factual information why the “thumbs down ” , it only leaves the conclusion that you would rather the viewers on Which who come here for help should be told information that is not true . It only takes a minute to verify what I said was the truth , are you “man enough ” to tell me why you think I am lying ?

Guest

Angus brod made a comment that premises can fail inspection and continue to operate in Scotland — the same applies in England ,there are different degrees in both countries as to the severity of the food problem . Do you want me to mention the English ones that have failed inspection because of say- uncooked meat and cooked meat in the same fridge section and whole lot more , they dont get a court order to close only forced to change their working practices . Is Cardonald not in the Renfrewshire Council area ? with this new Glasgow city business instead of Glasgow Regional council /Strathclyde is it not the case that that area is covered by Paisley Environmental Health ? not Glasgow City ?

Guest

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.

Guest

Well thanks for the honest reply thats all I wanted Broderick . I was only stating the legal facts and was expecting a rebuttal on those grounds . Its a pity more posters aren’t like you.

Guest

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.

Guest

Now thats the type of factual even handed post I like Ian .

Guest

One response to your point about people using hotlines in order to damage businesses – the hotline is just one stage (the front end, you could say) in a process of establishing whether there is, or what is the extent of, any food crime. Hotlines may be abused (and Crimestoppers and Police Scotland surely are used to this), but that is not to say they are not a useful source of information that can then be utilised by the relevant authorities in order to bring prosecutions forward. Any good enforcement system should have a good number of checks and balances in place to ensure that malicious, unnecessary or unsubstantiated reports at the front end do not lead to bad prosecutions.

Guest

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

Guest
john c malcolm says:
1 September 2016

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)

Guest
Blacksky says:
1 September 2016

Its worth a try-and better than doing nothing.

Guest
Mrs June Reid says:
2 September 2016

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.

Guest
James says:
2 September 2016

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.

Guest

I will second and third that James ,if we are to accept an American economy then we should have the same rights and respect given to US citizens . They play hard ball then we should , I am never slow about complaining .

Guest
Douglas Mackinnon says:
2 September 2016

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

Guest
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!!!!

Guest

Hi Jim, good point about Food Standards Scotland being well resourced. , When the new body was set up, Which? campaigned to ensure that it had the right resources to make a positive difference for Scottish consumers, both for food safety and for diet and nutrition. The whole food fraud enforcement system relies on being well resourced, proactive and being well networked in order to translate good intelligence into action. FSS needs to work well with other agencies, both in Scotland and across borders.

Guest
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

Guest
Gordon Berry says:
2 September 2016

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.

Guest

Hi Gordon, thanks for your comment. I just posted a comment above about this (see my response to LW). Remember, the hotline is also aimed at people who work in the food industry and are aware of malpractice, poor standards or illegal procedures. I realise it’s hard for ordinary consumers to find out whether your fish is whiting or haddock. This why we did the fish and lamb investigations (and that involved a lab, rather than just a taste test), because it’s almost impossible for the consumer to know these things. But sometimes people in the industry might want to report some of the things they see, confidentially.

Guest
Trevor Swistchew says:
7 September 2016

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.

Guest

Trevor -that was put forward a long time ago but was rejected as a “restriction of business ” , whether that view has changed in 2016 I leave others to answer.

Guest
jamesyeo says:
2 September 2016

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

Guest

They werent alone James the same many years ago I remember reading in a newspaper article about a woman who fed her husband “juicy ” cat-food , she said he thought it was the best she had cooked especially the gravy. And if you are talking of Scotland 40 years ago an Indian restaurant in Alexandra street in Clydebank was closed down and the owners prosecuted when health+safety officers found a frozen dog in their deep freezer .

Guest
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.

Guest

FSS has just announced a Food Alert that Errington Cheese Ltd has been issued with a blanket ban in which 20 people were effected with E.coli including a three year old girl who has since died . All produce should be withdrawn from sales and those not yet on sale should be withheld .Two strains of E.coli have been detected O157 and non-O157 in a number of different cheeses Dunsyre Blue is one . As this is so serious I am sure Which will allow publication of the emergency help number– 0800-028-2816 . A spokeswoman from Errington Cheese declined to comment. It has now spread to two areas of Scotland but this cheese also is on sale in England .

Guest

Thank you for sharing this Duncan.

Guest
Vlastimil Srsen says:
19 November 2016

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.

Guest

You have a very good point Vlastimil and for a- How to do it the RIGHT way -visit the US, in particular the FDA – Food+ Drug Administration who have even updated the strength of their laws with the Presidents help. As anyone who knows very strong rules apply all the way down the food chain in the US including advertising -say if an drink is advertised as “an orange drink ” in a food establishment it must be squeezed oranges NOT coloured/flavoured water with 200 chemicals inside . Check out -foodsafety.gov/news/fsma.html – and remember this is the home of commercial capitalism so why isnt HMG copying the US as it copies everything else– no profit maybe or human life in the UK worth less than the US ?

Guest

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:
https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6296487/How-diners-eating-calamari-formed-paste.html

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.