Expired food scam results in 27 arrests

An organised criminal group that doctored the labelling of expired food and beverage products and resold them to consumers has been taken down by enforcement authorities in the EU.

27 people have been arrested in connection with the scam, according to Europol which helped to coordinate the operation against the gang. The police agency said the food fraud – which included frozen meat, poultry, and fish – had “risked the health and safety of European consumers.

“Exploiting vulnerabilities in the supply chain initially induced by the COVID-19 pandemic, the suspects started acquiring immense quantities of expired food and beverages,” said Europol in a statement.

“They would then chemically erase the expiry date printed on the individual items and reprint a new one,” it added. “In other cases, a whole new label was forged and applied, giving the impression that the packaged food or beverage was still fresh and safe for consumption.”

According to the agency, the activities of the criminal network were uncovered during the last instalment of Operation Opson, a regular crackdown on illegal food practices coordinated by Europol and EU judicial unit Eurojust.

In the last Opson operation, authorities seized 27,000 tonnes of fraudulent and potentially hazardous food and beverage products, including 15m litres of alcoholic beverages.

In May, police in Lithuania, Estonia, France and Germany dismantled a criminal operation in Lithuania that is estimated to have made at least €1m in illicit profits from the labelling fraud and is also being investigated for large-scale VAT fraud.

More than a million food and beverage packages were found and prevented from entering the market.

Shortly afterwards, in July, another action day in Italy led to the arrest of three individuals and the confiscation of more than 500 000 food and beverage items. Many of the seized food items were not only expired but already spoiled.

“The phenomenon is new in its scale and diffused across several EU member states,” said Europol. “However, there is no involvement of food producers, as intermediate suppliers or other entities working in food disposal are used as facilitators in this particular criminal activity.”

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