Food fraud and food crimes can have serious consequences for caterers and customers with food allergies or intolerances.
Food fraud refers to the deliberate misrepresentation or adulteration of food products for economic gain, while food crimes encompass a broader range of illegal activities related to food, including adulteration, counterfeiting, and unsafe food production.
Here are some ways in which these issues can impact individuals with allergies or intolerances:
- Allergen Contamination: Food fraud and food crimes may lead to unintentional allergen contamination in food products. For example, a product labelled as “gluten-free” may contain traces of gluten due to cross-contamination during production, putting individuals with celiac disease at risk.
- Mislabelling: Mislabelling is a common form of food fraud. Products may be labelled incorrectly, omitting allergen information or listing false ingredients, which can mislead consumers with allergies or intolerances and lead to adverse reactions.
- Ingredient Substitution: In some cases, cheaper or unsafe ingredients may be substituted for authentic ones, which can have health implications for those with allergies or intolerances. For example, a restaurant might use a peanut oil substitute that contains undeclared peanut proteins.
- Counterfeit Allergen-Free Products: Counterfeit food products can be especially problematic for individuals with allergies or intolerances. Counterfeiters may create fake versions of allergen-free products that contain the allergen, posing significant health risks.
- Inadequate Safety Measures: Food crimes can involve the sale of unsafe or expired food products, which can be harmful to anyone but especially risky for those with allergies or intolerances.
- Financial Impact: Individuals with allergies or intolerances often pay a premium for specialty allergen-free products. Food fraud and crimes that deceive consumers into purchasing fake or substandard products can lead to financial losses.
What started as a test purchase at a Kebab shop in Crawley in August 2022 resulted in not only the item containing milk when the “customer” declared they had a milk allergy (and was assured it was milk free) but only 28.7% of the Lamb was Lamb and there was milk! (The full report on this is here: https://www.westsussex.gov.uk/news/crawley-kebab-shop-prosecuted-and-ordered-to-pay-10-005-for-food-safety-offences/)
To address these issues and protect the interests of caterers and customers with allergies or intolerances, it is essential for regulators, food manufacturers, and foodservice providers to take steps such as:
- Stringent Labelling Laws: Implement and enforce strict labelling laws to ensure that allergen information is accurate and easily accessible.
- Improved Supply Chain Monitoring: Enhance supply chain transparency and traceability to detect and prevent food fraud. This includes verifying the authenticity of ingredients.
- Education and Awareness: Training for foodservice staff on allergen management is also crucial.
- Increased Testing and Surveillance: Conduct regular testing and surveillance to detect fraudulent or unsafe food products.
- Swift Enforcement: Caterers with concerns over their supply chain can report these here: https://www.food.gov.uk/safety-hygiene/food-crime
- Industry Collaboration: Collaboration between industry stakeholders, regulatory agencies, and consumer advocacy groups can help address these issues more effectively.
Food fraud and food crimes can indeed pose serious risks to individuals with allergies or intolerances. Therefore, vigilance, regulatory action, and consumer education are vital to mitigate these risks and ensure the safety of the food supply for all consumers.
Julian Edwards FIH, FCSI, CFSP. CEO: Allergen Accreditation