According to recent analysis by the Guardian, almost 40% of products from service outlets such as restaurants as well as other businesses were selling mislabelled food. Misleading food labelling includes, not only the origin of the food but also health claims, ingredients (highlighting allergenic ingredients), weights and the description. There are various possible reasons for this including genuine errors, poor communication and in many cases, unethical practices such as re-labelling endangered species or meeting demand when there are shortages by selling wrongly labelled food produce.
With around 9,000 products included in the analysis the issue is widespread, but can we collectively do anything about it? And is it acceptable?
Food Fraud and Commonly Mislabelled Foods– Do mistakes happen?
Mistakes do happen in the food chain but mislabelling food produce or selling produce as something other than what it is can be, at best, unethical. Food labelling processes and practices within the food chain need to be continually reviewed to improve the process and avoid genuine mistakes.
Having stricter processes to avoid the wrong labelling of food produce will also help to spot when deliberate fraud is taking place. If a business such as a restaurant identifies that they are being sold the wrong produce, then it should be reported and corrected as soon as possible. This is unlikely to eliminate the problem of mis-selling food under a different name on a national scale, but it will help to deter fraudsters if enough businesses take the necessary action.
Unfortunately, efforts for removing the misleading labelling on foods needs to be embraced on a larger scale. According to the analysis “1 in 3 restaurants in a European study sold mislabelled seafood” while in China the misrepresentation of some foods was at least 58% “including some substitutions from the deadly pufferfish family”.
The importance of transparency in the food chain - How far can transparency go?
If catering companies can track the source of the food they purchase as well as the channels through which it was shipped, then this level of transparency will help ensure that what the restaurants and catering departments buy and what they provide to their customers is exactly what is says it should be.
Unfortunately, tracking the process can be difficult and even global businesses often struggle to gain transparency on how materials and ingredients are sourced.
Food fraud is real
How can dishonest labelling and misdescription in the food chain be stamped out? One way to improve transparency and ways to eliminate food fraud is by sourcing local produce from local businesses that you know and trust. Reducing the supply chain and buying directly from a local source reduces the risk of fraudsters being involved and this has the other benefits of reducing your carbon footprint.
Another way is to build long-term relationships with suppliers that are focused on understanding their supply chain and how produce is sourced.
Whoever and wherever you source your food produce from, it’s always good to ask for any proof of where the items are sourced and to ensure the message is clear - that you only buy from ethical sources.
If the supplier wants your long-term business, then they will pay attention, not mislable or mislead with their descriptions of foods and take action to make sure that they are complying at all times.
What else can be done?
We understand the challenges, and how difficult it is to have transparency in the food chain. The analysis shows how difficult it is, but it shouldn’t deter us from taking action to stamp out mislabelling and mis-selling of produce used in food businesses.
What other actions can be taken to improve transparency? We would love to hear your thoughts. Why not share them with us.
Get in touch with our food service consultants and give us a call today on 01992 467 598.