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In 2013, Europe was hit by one of the most high-profile food fraud incidents in modern history – the horsemeat scandal. The Food Standards Agency reported that many advertised beef products in the UK contained as much as 100% horsemeat; a finding that enraged and disturbed consumers across the country.

A House of Commons enquiry into the issue traced the cause back to Europe, where meat products had been knowingly and deliberately relabelled as other meats deep in the supply chain. The FSA called incidents of this type ‘food crime’ – the deliberate misrepresentation or dishonest handling of food.

Food crime is a particularly pernicious and difficult problem for a number of reasons. Firstly, fraudulent activities of this sort are covert by nature, and therefore inherently difficult to spot. The complex, trans-national nature of the global food supply chain also makes tracing, tracking, and stopping incidents of fraud very difficult. For these reasons, prevention of food crime must be a cross-industry exercise, with everyone from food producers to consumers remaining vigilant.

Protecting your business (and yourself!) from food crime can be tricky. We rarely know exactly what is in our food, and the threat of food crime adds another level of complexity to this issue. However, there are some things you can do to help avoid fraudulent foods.

Know your food

Education is always our first line of defence in the food business. By understanding food intimately, you can drastically increase your chances of spotting and avoiding fraudulent products. Specifically, it’s important to have a deep level of knowledge with regards to meat cuts. Knowing what part of the animal they come from, how they’re supposed to look, feel and smell, and how they change with cooking is all essential knowledge. It’s even possible for a knowledgeable chef to spot the difference between horse and beef mince on sight.

Look to reputable suppliers

When it comes to food sourcing, trust is a big part of the process. The best suppliers will come with recommendations, be completely transparent about where they get their food, and be recognised by independent bodies. Try to develop personal relationships with your suppliers and deal only with people that are passionate about the quality of their food. Local suppliers are often much more concerned about where their food comes from than large chain suppliers. If you can buy your eggs from a farmer down the road, it could be safer (and cheaper!) than ones brought in from the EU.

Process foods yourself

Food crime is difficult to spot because the fraudulent ingredients are often disguised in highly processed foods. By buying whole, raw foods and processing them yourself, you can be much more comfortable that you’re getting the quality that you paid for. For example, try mincing your own, locally-sourced steaks instead of buying medications online minced meat from a supplier. This is a little more time intensive, but the quality, flavour and confidence you have in your food will dramatically improve.

That’s our three best hints for avoiding food crime. Remember to always be vigilant, and blow the whistle on food crime whenever you encounter it. You can contact the FSA about incidents of suspected food crime here.