Top Tips to Reduce Food Fraud

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Food fraud remains an important concern for the food and drink industry, with FSA and CIEH guidance suggesting that much of the fraudulent activity goes undetected. Food fraud can take many forms, from businesses receiving adulterated or substituted products, false claims about the food such as organic or free range etc, to fictitious companies receiving goods on credit and then disappearing. 

Rob Easton, Head of Environmental Health at Shield Safety, a leading provider of professional services and software solutions across food safety, health and safety, and fire safety, and Certification Body of Safe to Trade, the first voluntary, third-party assurance scheme for the UK hospitality sector designed to protect the public, shares handy tips to reduce food fraud in your business: 

There are many definitions of food fraud; the simple definition is “intentional deception for economic gain using food”.

1. Risk Assessment: Understand and Communicate the Risk to Staff

The number of incidents of food and drink fraud, substitution and misrepresentation, shows that the risk to businesses is real and current. By increasing your own and your team’s awareness of the issue you can ensure that staff are vigilant and know what to look out for. This might highlight the requirement for some training or should start with the identification of concerns in the sector and risks directly relevant to your business. Free sources of information could include your Food Trade Association, the Food Standards Agency (FSA), Food Standards Scotland (FSS) or their crime units, your local authority food team or RASFF system. In addition, you could subscribe to a food fraud incidents horizon scanning service. Leading open access and commercial food fraud prevention tools, including those that can be used to understand risks important to your business, are listed on the Food Authenticity Network.

2. Food Fraud Prevention Plan

Once you have understood the risks pertinent to your business, you should develop, together with your staff, a food fraud prevention strategy and put in place a food fraud prevention plan to mitigate the identified risks. This plan should be incorporated into your overall food safety management system. In many instances, the plan will start with a check on suppliers.

3. Know your Suppliers

Make sure you know and vet your suppliers. Ideally, visit them or check they are legitimate in some other way – do they have 3rd party certification, are they registered or approved by the local authority? Buying goods from unknown suppliers will massively increase your vulnerability to food fraud. Remember, it is not uncommon for fictitious food companies to be set up and receive goods on credit, or take money and disappear without providing the correct or sometimes any products at all.

4. Remain Vigilant and Check Goods

The FSA’s National Food Crime Unit and the FSS’s Scottish Food Crime and Incidents Unit stress, given current geopolitical conditions, the need for continued vigilance by businesses. Ensure your food safety management system includes regular checks of supplies to make sure that you are getting the quality and authenticity of food or drink you are paying for, e.g., check that goods received are in line with any quality specifications you have i.e. not substituted with a cheaper product, are the right weight/volume, have sufficient shelf life, packaging is intact, and labelling clear and distinct etc.

If goods are being sold at a premium because of quality or other claims e.g. meat content, allergen-free, free range, ask your supplier for information to support the claim or to demonstrate they are meeting your specification. Occasional sampling or testing is also an option, especially if you have concerns, but confidence can be obtained by using legitimate suppliers who have their own quality controls and are able to provide the required assurance.

5. Develop an Anti-fraud Culture

Set high standards and have clear parameters of what is acceptable and unacceptable in your business and ensure that this is clearly communicated to all your staff and suppliers. The importance of creating a food safety culture of excellence is well recognised as being an effective tool in food fraud prevention. This will lead to staff who are knowledgeable, encouraged and confident in reporting any concerns or suspicions they might have, which will be a deterrent to food fraud and potential opportunistic malpractice occurring withing your business.

6. Report Concerns or Suspicions about Food Crime

This is one of the best ways to tackle food crime and for the industry to protect itself. The FSA’s National Food Crime Unit has a Food Crime Confidential phone and email reporting facility; the Unit wants to know where businesses or staff have suffered from food crime, or have any suspicions about food and drink adulteration or substitution, and to hear about any companies or businesses selling food purporting to be of a certain quality, or with claims which do not seem genuine or are suspected as fake. Call the Food Standards Agency on 0800 028 1180, or the Food Standards Scotland Food Crime Hotline on 0800 028 7926.

By following practical steps such as these, you can not only reduce your risks from food fraud but also help protect the whole food industry. Taking action and having reasonable checks also means you are undertaking due diligence and can demonstrate this to the authorities if a problem does occur.

For further support, get in touch with the Shield Safety team: 

The new standard in food safety, Safe to Trade is the world’s first approved voluntary third-party assurance programme that measures Food Safety to the highest national and international standards. Every Safe to Trade audit is conducted by fully qualified EHPs, ensuring that your establishment aligns with the latest food hygiene and safety regulations, as well as meeting food standards, including food content, labelling and descriptions. Shield Safety can provide support to your business to achieve Safe To Trade certification. Find out more here: