The United Kingdom has assessed the safety of imported seafood as part of an annual operation targeting illicit food and drinks.

Suffolk Coastal Port Health Authority (SCPHA) took part in Operation Opson XI, which is coordinated by Interpol and Europol, by analyzing food and beverages based on intelligence from the National Food Crime Unit (NFCU), which is part of the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

Almost 27,000 tons of food and 15 million liters of beverages were seized globally between December 2021 and May 2022.

In the UK, there were more than 400 checks mainly on fish, seafood, and alcohol. SCPHA sampled 14 tuna, prawn, and squid products imported to the Port of Felixstowe. Officials looked for nitrates and nitrites, irradiated items, and declaration of species.

Lack of traceability

Simon Rowell, technical lead for products of animal origin at SCPHA, said: “This year, as part of the UK’s contribution to the global operation, the NFCU asked us to take samples of tuna, prawn, and squid products to look for traces of nitrates and nitrites, irradiation and undeclared species, respectively, which they identified as areas of concern.”

Officials found an undeclared Swordtip squid mixed with Indian Ocean squid.

“If a species isn’t certified, there’s no health certification to guarantee how it was caught, handled, packaged, stored, and transported, including whether it’s hygienic, free of residues, and kept at the required temperature. This lack of traceability can also be a result of illegal fishing,” said Rowell.

Giles Chapman, head of analysis at the FSA’s National Food Crime Unit, said checks involved sampling and other approaches. 

“While the results of this year’s operation have not identified high levels of serious fraudulent activity, we remain vigilant to wider threats of food fraud. Along with Food Standards Scotland, we’ll continue working in partnership with councils, port health authorities, and organizations like Europol to protect consumers from unsafe or inauthentic food and drink,” he said.

German and Norwegian operations

In Germany, species substitution and undeclared water addition in fish, crustaceans, and mollusks were in focus.

Overall, 72 of the 443 products analyzed raised potential suspicion of food fraud. Abnormalities were detected in 40 of 298 samples tested for added water. The use of illicit or undeclared additives was found in 10 out of 218 samples. In 13 of 232 samples, concerns were highlighted about inconsistencies in the declaration. Another 20 products had issues because of other misleading information.

The Norwegian Food Safety Authority (Mattilsynet) tested for illegal use of nitrite in Norwegian smoked salmon. Nitrite is used as a preservative but can also maintain the color of products. One of 25 samples had traces of nitrite but deliberate use or fraud was not identified by officials.

Norwegian Customs (Tolletaten) found fake vodka packaging in May and July.

Officials uncovered 17 packages with 1,020 flat-packed cartons with the Jelzin Vodka brand. Cartons were under a blanket in the back seat of a Lithuanian-registered car. Jelzin Vodka confirmed the packaging was not authentic and two Lithuanian citizens were arrested.

In Rwanda, seized products included honey, alcoholic and soft beverages, biscuits, and powdered milk. Others items were poorly packaged, including meat, and locally produced illicit alcohol. Ten people were arrested. Of 430 production plants and pharmacies visited during the operation, 99 either had no license or were still operating despite it has expired.

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