DINERS are being duped in restaurants and takeaways by being sold food which is not what it is claimed to be.

Middlesbrough Borough Council’s Trading Standards team has uncovered numerous examples of misdescribed dishes in the town.

They include ham being substituted with turkey meat, cheese being substituted with a vegetable oil-based mixture and crab being substituted with seafood sticks.

Other examples include ‘lamb’ kebabs made with beef and chicken; fried cabbage being sold as crispy seaweed and reformed whitefish being sold as scampi.

Trading Standards, who conducted a survey with the council’s Environmental Health department, have issued a warning to food outlets that the practice will not be tolerated and prosecution is an option.

A council spokesman said that most of the examples of food fraud did not affect the safety of the food. They are mainly cheaper food alternatives used by food businesses to save money.

Environmental Health and Trading Standards manager Judith Hedgley, said: “Using names or descriptions that hide the true nature of a foodstuff is considered fraud. Consumers must always be served food that is safe and is what it says it is.

“Where we have found improvements are needed, businesses have been given an opportunity to address any issues of inaccurate food labelling. However, we will always put the interests of consumers first and, if necessary, appropriate enforcement action will be taken. This could include prosecution which could result in heavy fines and negative publicity for a business.”

Councillor Julia Rostron, Middlesbrough council’s executive member for Adult Health and Social Care, said: “We fully understand and accept that most food businesses would not intentionally mislead their customers. However, they have a responsibility to ensure they label and describe their foods accurately and their customers can make an informed choice. Environmental Health and Trading Standards Officers work closely with food businesses to prevent food fraud and to protect consumer rights. Businesses that deliberately or negligently contravene laws that protect consumer rights or act against the interests of legitimate businesses will face appropriate legal action.”

Other examples of food fraud found in the survey included mechanically separated meat being sold as chicken nuggets or burgers; margarine described as butter and ‘home-made’ when the food is made in a factory.

Businesses with concerns should call Trading Standards on 01644-728272.