1. A sample taken from an import of squid which contained an undeclared species

Irradiated prawns and undeclared seafood targeted by SCPHA for OPSON XI

Imported seafoods were put under a magnifying glass at Britain’s busiest container port to help combat fake and substandard food as part of Operation OPSON XI.

Suffolk Coastal Port Health Authority (SCPHA) took part in the joint venture by Interpol and Europol to analyse at-risk food and beverages based on intelligence from the National Food Crime Unit (NFCU) – part of the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

Simon Rowell, Technical Lead for products of animal origin at SCPHA, said:

“SCPHA has taken part in the yearly Operation OPSON since 2017 to further our mission of the protection of public and animal health.

“This year, as part of the UK’s contribution to the global operation, the NFCU asked us to take samples of tuna, prawn and squid products to look for traces of nitrates and nitrites, irradiation and undeclared species, respectively, which they identified as areas of concern.”

Left: Prawns tested for irradiation by SCPHA.

OPSON XI saw port health authorities, law enforcement agencies and other organisations across the world conduct checks to target concerns highlighted by public health bodies in certain foods and beverages. This included over 400 checks in the UK mainly on fish, seafood and alcoholic drinks.

SCPHA sampled 14 tuna, prawn and squid products imported to the Port of Felixstowe and found a surprising result after sending them for laboratory analyses.

Simon said:

“The majority of our checks were satisfactory. However, we found and reported an undeclared Swordtip squid mixed in with Indian Ocean squid.

“If a species isn’t certified, there’s no health certification to guarantee how it was caught, handled, packaged, stored and transported, including whether it’s hygienic, free of residues and kept at the required temperature. This lack of traceability can also be a result of illegal fishing.”

Right: Imported red shrimps sampled by SCPHA.

Giles Chapman, Head of Analysis at the Food Standard Agency’s National Food Crime Unit, said:

“We worked in partnership with Suffolk Coastal Port Health Authority on Operation Opson, this year targeting illegal seafood.

“Nationally over 400 checks have been completed under OPSON XI, through sampling and other approaches. While the results of this year’s operation have not identified high levels of serious fraudulent activity, we remain vigilant to wider threats of food fraud. Along with Food Standards Scotland, we’ll continue working in partnership with councils, port health authorities and organisations like Europol to protect consumers from unsafe or inauthentic food and drink.”

SCPHA looks forward to contributing to future Operation OPSONs, which in 2017 involved obtaining samples of 100% natural coconut water to determine authenticity, and in 2018 required SCPHA to target chemicals being used in the fake colouration of tuna steaks.

Simon concluded:

“Targeted food surveillance is always changing based on intelligence, and we’re committed to doing our part as one of the UK’s largest port health authorities.”