Fighting Food Fraud

Established in 2015, The National Food Crime Unit (NFCU), a part of the Food Standards Agency (FSA), is tasked with protecting consumers and the food industry from food crime in supply chains.

Recently, the NFCU published guidance to food businesses on the subject of how to avoid becoming the victim of fraudulent individuals or groups purchasing goods and not paying for them. This is known as European Distribution Fraud (EDF), which can leave suppliers at a considerable financial loss.

Everyone in the UK is facing increasing costs of living, causing economic pressures for many businesses, especially those in the food industry. The rising costs mean we are all actively looking for ways to save money, unfortunately, criminals have recognised this and are taking advantage. The NCFU is advising extra vigilance, particularly ensuring that businesses being sold to are legitimate.

The guidance from the NFCU provides useful tips on identifying potential signs of EDF, such as:

  • Change of address where regular orders are delivered to
  • Poor grammar in communications from the business
  • Orders from new customers requesting urgent turnaround

The document advises on actions to help avoid EDF when engaging with new customers, including

  • Checking when the website was created, is this a long-established business?
  • Conducting site visits to meet the new customer
  • Understand how the new customer places orders and their process. Be aware if the customer changes their approach suddenly
  • Research the business, use Companies House and social media platforms to build an understanding of the business and the individuals involved
  • Request a deposit to be paid in advance
  • Last-minute changes in delivery addresses are checked with the head office

The full NFCU guide and checklist can be downloaded here.

The checking of suppliers should form part of a business’s food safety management system, not just for fraud but to ensure that they are reputable and the goods supplied are safe and of the nature and standard required. When engaging with a new supplier, here are some basic checks that you can consider:

  • Are they registered with their Local Authority Environmental Health Department?
  • If they have a food hygiene rating score, what is it?
  • Have they ever had a food safety notice served against them?
  • Have they been independently audited for food safety?
  • Do they hold accreditation such as Salsa or BRC Global Standard?
  • If they do hold accreditation or have been audited, do these checks cover the locations you will be buying from and the products being supplied to you?
  • Request a copy of the ingredient specification, including all information regarding allergens. Does this specification contain all the information required?

You may wish to undertake your own site visit and check the standards for yourself. Our Food Safety Management System includes a useful document for supplier approval and a checklist that can be completed whilst on-site. Alternatively, supplier audits can be completed by our team of highly experienced Environmental Health Practitioners. To find out more, contact us.

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Rob Easton


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