The Environmental Health Service of East Lothian Council carried out targeted food surveillance during a 12-month period.

The surveillance was considered an important activity in providing public assurance in food offered for sale within East Lothian, as well as contributing to the international Operation OPSON VI, coordinated by INTERPOL and Europol.

Within East Lothian, the OPSON remit was to investigate chicken and lamb traceability and almond / peanut substitution in restaurants and takeaways. Both of these practices not only offer potential for fraudulent activity with financial gain, where cheaper products are substituted and sold as a more expensive product, but also have significant potential to cause harm, i.e. allergic reaction to peanut protein.

Fifteen samples were obtained from six food businesses across East Lothian over the course of 2016-17. Six lamb korma curries were sampled for meat speciation and the presence of peanut protein. Three samples of almond powder were obtained from the takeaways to test for peanut protein. One dish had undeclared peanut discovered through laboratory analysis and the business has since changed its marketing of the product and warned customers of peanut in dishes.

Following on from Operation OPSON, the Environmental Health Service undertook a programme to sample ready-made value meals, with a focus on meat speciation and description. The aim was to sample food from six major supermarkets within East Lothian. Fourteen different samples were obtained in total. All dishes were satisfactory.

Derek Oliver, the council’s Service Manager – Protective Services, said:

“The Environmental Health Service undertakes food crime surveillance and investigations on a routine basis through the operations of its Business Regulation team. Wherever there are concerns regarding adulteration, substitution or fitness of food, Environmental Health Officers will investigate, determine intentionality and the potential risk to public health. Food crime can range from a small localised incident to, as the horsemeat issue a few years ago demonstrated, a very complex network across the globalised food chain. Our actions safeguard the public in terms of safety and authenticity of product purchased, and in doing so we protect and promote legitimate food businesses. Through our routine inspections of food businesses, Environmental Health Officers not only check hygiene but undertake assessments of food supplies and traceability as well as labelling and marketing of dishes and products. Officers advise and educate operators and increase awareness of the pitfalls buying from disreputable suppliers or being tempted by the “too good to be true” offers, particularly in today’s financial climate.

“The results from this surveillance programme, together with ongoing routine sampling (206 food samples were taken and analysed for contamination and/or composition in 2016-17) can give the public and business operators of East Lothian reassurance. Environmental Health will continue to undertake sampling to protect the public, support our compliant business community and promote East Lothian as the nation’s food and drink county.”

Anyone with concerns in relation to such issues can submit information via the My East Lothian app or email Food Standards Scotland also provide a Scottish Food Crime Hotline where information can be reported anonymously: 0800 028 7926.

Sixty one countries (21 EU Member States) took part in operation OPSON VI, which was carried out for a sixth consecutive year. Each participating country implemented a national operational phase with more than 50,000 checks carried out at shops, markets, airports, seaports and industrial estates. Operation OPSON VI resulted in the seizure of 9,800 tonnes, over 26.4 million litres, and 13 million items worth an estimated EUR 230 million of potentially harmful food and beverages ranging from every day products such as alcohol, mineral water, seasoning cubes, seafood and olive oil, to luxury goods such as caviar.

Published: Thursday, 21st September 2017