The Association of British Insurers (ABI) is investigating record levels of commercial fire damage, believing the economic downturn has provoked a surge in "arson and fraud"
The ABI has no separate figures for the food and drink industry yet. But a spokesman said the investigation findings, to be published later this year, would indicate what is happening in the sector more clearly.
According to overall commercial figures published last month, which include the food and drink industry, 2008 saw record levels of large-scale fire damage costing £865M, up 15% on 2007. "We are investigating this worrying trend, and will be publishing our findings and recommendations for tackling the problem later this year," said Nick Starling, ABI's director of general insurance and health.
"These are alarming figures. We believe arson and fraud are contributing factors," he added.
Peter Jackman, technical director of International Fire consultants, agreed that the number of industrial fires had a tendency to leap up "during times of economic hardship". "There's no denying that arson is a contributing factor," he said.
But he added that the increase could also be the result of a reduction of money allocated to fire protection measures.
Insurance broker and risk assessor Aon claimed inadequate risk assessments and fires from electrical equipment are exacerbating the problem, as an increasing number of factories are installing automated systems and computer technologies.