Middlesbrough Council’s Environmental Health and Trading Standards team looked at menus advertised through internet sites, visited food outlets and compared the description of dishes against what was being served.
They found ham substituted with turkey meat. The term ham should only be used for salted or smoked meat from the upper part of a pig’s leg and crab substituted with seafood sticks, which are a mixture of white fish with crab flavouring and don’t contain any crab meat.
Most examples of food fraud found do not affect safety of the food - they are cheaper alternatives used by food businesses to save money, said the council.
In the worst cases some businesses used a false description believing the customer would not buy the food if they knew its true nature.
Judith Hedgley, Environmental Health and Trading Standards manager, said food businesses have a legal obligation to ensure what they serve is correctly named or described.
“Using names or descriptions that hide the true nature of a foodstuff is considered fraud. Consumers must always be served food that is safe and is what it says it is - it must never be described in a way that is likely to mislead the consumer or prevent them from making an informed choice.
“Therefore, although businesses may not intend to mislead their customers, if they use false or misleading names or descriptions this will lead to their customers buying and eating food that they did not want.”
Other potentially fraudulent descriptions included fried cabbage sold as crispy seaweed, reformed whitefish with very little or no scampi sold as scampi, ‘home-made’ or ‘local’ when food is made in a factory or is not sourced locally and a false origin given in the name, for example Whitby Scampi, when the product was not harvested in Whitby.
Councillor Julia Rostron, executive member for Adult Health and Social Care, said people have the right to expect that any food they buy is safe and is correctly and truthfully described.
“We fully understand and accept that most food businesses would not intentionally mislead their customers. However, they have a responsibility to ensure they label and describe their foods accurately and their customers can make an informed choice.
“[Businesses] that deliberately or negligently contravene laws that protect consumer rights or act against the interests of legitimate businesses will face appropriate legal action.”