It is estimated that food fraud costs the global food industry over $10million per year. The 2013 horsemeat in burgers scandal which affected supermarkets throughout the UK is hard to forget.  In this article we look at food fraud and how it can impact on your business, in particular your obligations in regard to modern slavery, food hygiene and allergens. 

What is Food fraud

  • The sale of food which is unfit and potentially harmful because it is of unknown origin or has been altered. Some common examples include parmesan cheese which contains cardboard, spices which have been mixed with dust or other spices, milk which has been watered down and honey which contains antibiotics. In some cases food products may be substituted with a common allergen – eg tree nuts or eggs – which can cause allergy sufferers to become ill.
  • Deliberate inaccuracy in the description of food – eg ‘olive oil’ which contains different types of oil; wild salmon which is farmed; or organic food which is not organic.

For restaurant and pub operators with a food offering it is important to take precautions against food fraud, which is reportedly on the rise. Not only is there the risk of damage to your reputation and brand, but also potential liability should a customer become ill as a result.

The obligation to know what you are serving and where your ingredients come from is wider than the avoidance of food fraud. If you do not carry out supply chain due diligence and buy from reputable suppliers you also risk falling foul of the following legislation:

Modern slavery

The Modern Slavery Act 2015 (Transparency in Supply Chains) Regulations 2015

Relevant businesses (those with a turnover of over £36m) are obliged to publish a statement setting out the steps they have taken to ensure that there is no slavery in their business or supply chain. The world criminal map and the world food map overlap very well says Professor Chris Elliott of Queen’s University, Belfast and “the places we get fresh fruit and veg from are overlapped by drugs cartels.”  It is entirely possible that the fruit and veg that you buy for your restaurant  are harvested by victims of modern slavery.  You need to be sure you have carried out proper enquiries before publishing your anti slavery statement.  For more information see Freeths article – Modern Slavery – a new duty to audit and report


The Food Information Regulations 2014

Food outlets are required to provide information about the content of the food they serve and to declare if 14 specified allergens are present, the most common of which are nuts, gluten, eggs and milk. You therefore need to be sure about the contents of the food you serve.  Ask questions of suppliers and ensure they are reputable and are giving you the correct information.

The maximum financial penalty for failing to give the correct allergen information is £5,000. However, the real penalty must be in the fact that if a diner suffers an allergic reaction or even death as a result of inaccurate allergen information then the damage to reputation could be irrevocable.

For further information on the obligation to provide allergen information see Freeths’ articles – Allergens in Food FSA publishes guidance and Allergen regulations still a cause for concern for hospitality managers

Health and Safety

Sentencing Council Guidelines on Food Safety and Hygiene Offences

Operators will be only too well aware of the need for impeccable food hygiene levels. If a customer becomes ill after eating at your outlet, the ensuing bad publicity and potential legal action can be very damaging to your business.  Bear in mind that new guidelines on how penalties for food hygiene offences are calculated have been issued.  The fine will now take into account the financial circumstances of the offending organisation and its turnover.  For food hygiene offences the starting point when fining a large organisation (turnover of £50 or more) found guilty of a food safety offence, where both the harm and culpability levels are high, would be £1.2m. The fine range extends to fines of up to £3m for businesses with a £500,000 turnover.

For further information see Freeths’ article – “New Food Hygiene fines reflect operator turnover”.

The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the present time and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.