There have been examples of UK supermarkets selling packets of rice labelled as arborio rice, despite the contents being a cheaper variety called ribe, Risso Gallo chief executive Carlo Preve said.
Although this issue did not present a food safety problem, it was fraudulent, since consumers were being misled into paying premium prices for a low-cost product, Preve added.
“It’s difficult to tell the difference between risotto rice varieties,” he admitted. “This is why it is easy for fraudsters to substitute one variety for another.
“The authorities have to be trained for years to see the difference of one variety and another – even the Italian authorities.”
Sold the wrong variety
With this difficulty in mind, it was likely that buyers from UK supermarkets were probably unaware they were being sold the wrong variety of rice, said Riso Gallo UK md Jason Morrison.
Most of the fraud was occurring as a result of the poor risotto rice harvest two years ago, which pushed prices up from 400 (£289) a tonne in 2013 to 1,000 (£723) a tonne last year, he added.
“We found one issue of mislabelled rice in a UK supermarket recently and I hope it’s an isolated incidence,” Morrison said. “It wasn’t our rice, but I went to the supermarket’s buyer and told him to be aware. I genuinely don’t think he was aware there was an issue.”
However, while risotto rice fraud had been identified as problem elsewhere in Europe, it wasn’t prevalent in the UK, a Food Standards Agency spokeswoman claimed.
“Substitution of arborio rice with cheaper varieties is not necessarily a food safety issue, but the Food Crime Unit would welcome any information indicating fraudulent substantiation or mislabelling is taking place,” she said.
To protect themselves, manufacturers and retailers should implement an integrated and communicative supply chain, suggested Steve Osborn, principal consultant for food and beverage at the Aurora Ceres Partnership.
This wasn’t just about retailers implementing strict rules, it required all parts of the supply chain to consider the impact of fraud and take responsibility, he said.
“All manufacturers should be risk assessing suppliers with potential fraud in mind and if elevated risk exists, they should audit and not rely on certification,” Osborn added.
Don’t miss Food Manufacture’s Food safety conference: ‘Safer food and drink from harvest to home,’ which takes place at The Lowry in Manchester on September 29. For more information click here or call 01293 610 354.