Local authority trading standards and environmental health officers sampled 307 lamb dishes, such as curries and kebabs, sold from takeaway outlets. The testing was announced last year and was prompted by evidence of ongoing substitution of lamb for cheaper meats, such as beef and chicken.
Of the samples tested, 223 (73%) were fully compliant and 65 samples (21%) failed because of the presence of non-declared meat.
In addition, 12 samples (4%) tested positive for the presence of undeclared allergens, including peanut and almonds proteins. Seven samples (2%) were non-compliant because of the unauthorised use of additives.
The samples that tested positive for undeclared meat showed the presence of beef, chicken, and pork, although they were not sold as a halal product.
Undeclared meat species
Of these samples, 23 had levels of undeclared meat species below 1%, which is more likely to indicate poor handling during processing rather than potential adulteration.
Local authorities had followed up on all problem samples and relevant action was taken, including prosecution, said the FSA.
Consumer group Which? reacted with outrage to the findings. “Nearly a year since our investigation found evidence of food fraud in lamb takeaways, it's shocking to find that one in five samples tested were still contaminated with other meats,” said Which? executive director Richard Lloyd.
“We want the government, local authorities and the FSA to take tougher action to crack down on food fraud offenders and ensure the recommendations from the Elliott review are implemented.”
John Barnes, FSA head of local delivery, said: “Consumers need to know that the food they buy is what it says on the menu or the label. The FSA is working with local authorities to identify potential problems and investigate.
“The FSA and local authorities are on the lookout for deliberate meat substitution and action will be taken to protect local consumers and legitimate food businesses.”
The recently created Food Crime Unit (FCU) is coordinating the FSA’s work to identify potential food fraud in partnership with local authorities, police forces, other government departments, and the food industry.
The levels found in the seven samples that tested positive for undeclared allergens suggested low level cross-contamination from the ingredients used or from within the kitchen when the dishes were being prepared. However, the levels were high enough to cause an allergic reaction.
Since December, the Food Information for Consumers Regulation (FIR) has required food businesses to provide allergy information on food sold unpackaged in catering outlets, such as takeaway restaurants. The FSA has help and advice on its website to assist businesses in understanding what food allergies are about and how to comply with the new allergen rules.
The FSA said because cooking did not destroy allergens, businesses needed to know the allergens present in their food ingredients or dishes through clear labelling, good segregation and communication.
The samples that were non-compliant for additives contained one or both of the colours Sunset Yellow (E110) and Ponceau 4R (E124), said the FSA.
These are permitted additives but since May 2013 there have been new limits set on the levels allowed in food. The samples were compliant with the previous legislation, but exceeded the updated levels.
Short term consumption of the products was unlikely to lead to adverse health effects, the FSA stated. It is working with the industry and local authorities to ensure businesses are aware of the current legislation covering these additives.