Animal by-products, 2,4-dinitrophenol, beef and alcohol are among the product categories that have been part of food crime investigations by units in the United Kingdom.
Updates were presented at the Food Standard Agency’s Business Committee and Food Standards Scotland (FSS) board meetings.
The National Food Crime Unit (NFCU) has four new investigations, bringing the number of live cases to nine. Three have been closed so far this year.
Operation Wayfaring is dealing with sales of 2,4-dinitrophenol (DNP), a chemical sold as a diet pill for weight loss. Another investigation on DNP supply called Operation Atlas is now with the Crown Prosecution Service.
Operation Bantam is investigating the diversion of Animal By-Products (ABP) back into the food chain through fraud and theft. Probable theft offences were identified by NFCU and during an unannounced inspection. They were reported to police, resulting in arrests and identification of criminal proceeds worth hundreds of thousands. A police investigation is ongoing.
Similar activity was identified by NFCU at another food business which resulted in police intervention in July, including arrests. In August, enquiries led to suspending approval to work with ABP from one business implicated in handling illicit product. This suspension is pending appeal.
Finally, Operation Hawk concerns intelligence that a company is fraudulently labeling meat as British.
In Scotland, there are investigations ongoing including counterfeit alcohol, beef and other foodstuffs as well as animal welfare.
Five cases have been reported to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service. Three are being considered under the more-serious petition procedure while two are under summary procedure.
Recent investigations include suspected food fraud involving illegal gathering and export of shellfish; authenticity of beef; adulteration of saffron; counterfeit confectionery and vodka, misrepresentation of Parma ham being sold by a Scottish business and enquiries into regulatory non-compliances at FSS approved premises.
The Scottish Food Crime and Incidents Unit (SFCIU) has led or supported investigations into the import of suspected counterfeit wines; herbal Viagra; zamzam water and other foodstuffs intercepted at Scottish seaports and airports.
SFCIU helped Police Scotland in an operation that led to the arrest of two men in Central Scotland for allegedly supplying DNP and steroids via online forums.
Another trend involves the production, online marketing and sale of cannabis edibles by organized crime groups. These products contain irregular amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which can be toxic in high doses. Cannabis edibles are packaged to mimic branded sweets and fizzy drinks, making it more likely to be consumed in large quantities and has led to a number of children around the UK being hospitalized.
Delay to border checks
In other news from the FSA meeting, the less than thoroughly cooked beef burger guidance has been updated and a 12-week comment period will begin anytime.
The government delaying introduction of pre-notification of EU imports until January 2022 did leave a gap, but existing data analysis and surveillance helped, with the risk to consumers from EU food and feed remaining low, said the FSA.
Pre-notification allows authorities to manage food safety incidents on imports by identifying what high-risk food and feed is crossing the border. Without it, officials don’t know when or where implicated products from the EU are entering Great Britain, or their destination.
Emily Miles, FSA chief executive, also updated the board on the few imports of certain food and feed products that had travelled through Europe to Great Britain from non-EU countries via Dover without the required sanitary and phytosanitary checks after Jan. 1. The chief executive said FSA had seen a significant reduction in the volume of non-compliant consignments.
The FSA is changing the way its inspectors carry out official controls in meat plants and other primary production establishments. Board members emphasized the need to be sensitive to how this would affect smaller abattoirs as well as large ones; and the need to work with frontline staff, such as meat hygiene inspectors, in designing changes.
Enforcement decision-making will be brought in-house and duties of the employed FSA decision-making vets and contracted official veterinarians (OVs) working in plants will be clarified.
Getting back on track
An annual report on food standards with Food Standards Scotland is scheduled to be published in mid-2022. It will look at whether standards are being maintained, falling, or improving.
During the FSA’s business committee meeting it was revealed that more than 12,000 food hygiene ratings were awarded in June compared to 470 in June 2020, and 16,000 in June 2019.
In the first quarter of the year, 16 local authorities indicated they may struggle to meet the FSA minimum expectation on official controls for that period. Follow-up shows 15 will return to compliance with one local authority under monitoring into the second quarter.
The FSA was notified of and investigated 1,978 food, feed and environmental contamination incidents in England, Northern Ireland and Wales during 2020-21. This is a 20 percent decrease compared to the 2,478 in 2019-20.
The amount of allergy and product recall alerts issued also declined from 178 in 2019-20 to 141 in 2020-21. Numbers are returning to pre-pandemic levels as lockdown restrictions are lifted.
Meat and meat products remain the most common category in food incident notifications received whilst contamination with pathogenic microorganisms is the most frequently reported hazard to food safety.
“We believe the 20 percent downturn in incident notifications received and the 21 percent decrease in the alerts in 2020-21, was caused by the pandemic driving changes in consumer behavior; the streamlining of food production lines; fewer food businesses operating and a reduction in the complexity of the product ranges on offer,” according to the report.
The FSA and FSS are also holding the Global Food Safety and Incident Emergency Response conference virtually from Oct. 13 to 15.
(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)