Crime-hit supermarket chain Iceland has been forced to lock up its cheese and meat joints in security-sealed boxes.
Hundreds of stores across Britain have introduced “lamb saver boxes”, which encase food produce in boxes similar to those used to protect CDs and DVDs.
If a thief tries to flee the store without paying the security box triggers an alarm.
Checkout assistants at the stores have told customers the supermarket chain also plans to fix security tags to its cheese – or lock the dairy goods away from reach.
Iceland said it had been forced into the “defence mechanisms” to stop a growing number of hungry thieves pinching its stock.
Customers slammed the precaution, while food charities interpreted the measure as “inevitable” as families struggle to make ends meet.
Shopper Simon Wightman said he was “saddened” to to find the leg-of-lamb contained in security tagged boxes when he was doing a weekly shop.
The motorcycle store manager a father-of-three from Herne Bay, Kent, said: “I just think it is sad that people feel they have to steal from Iceland to survive.
“What is the world coming to? When I saw them I couldn’t believe it.
“Someone trying to swipe something expensive from Marks & Spencer you can almost understand, but pinching meat from Iceland?
“What will they do next, an electric fence around the fish fingers?
“When I laughed at the boxes, the woman at the check out even said they were planning to security tag cheese.
“Apparently so many people steal it, they stuff it into their trousers and run out – its ridiculous.
“You can understand them wanting the boxes because even when their security guards catch someone they can’t sell the food if its been stuffed down someone’s pants.”
Iceland, which like most food stores already fixes security tags to luxury items, such as expensive spirits, said its new measures were needed to maximise “availability.”
Spokesperson Amy Globe, said: “The lamb saver boxes are used in several hundred Iceland stores and are designed to enhance the availability of the product for customers.
“The boxes are designed to serve as a defence mechanism to reduce theft and thereby ensure there is maximum availability for customers.”
Food charities said they had seen the need for food banks in certain areas of Britain double in the last year.
The Trussell Trust, part of the UK food bank network, said they weren’t shocked to see a rise in theft from the Iceland store, claiming some families are “desperate” for food.
Some of the charity’s individual branches have reported more than a 30 per cent increase in people using food banks since the UK was hit by recession in 2009.
More than 200,000 people across Britain are now known to be signed-up to food banks to feed their families.
Trussell Trust spokeswoman Molly Hodson said: “Parents will often go days without eating so they can feed their children but when they are faced with not being able to feed their two-year-old of course they turn to desperate measures.
“Food banks are based in towns and cities across the country but we still don’t have enough and that is the worrying thing.
“Families in the UK are struggling – the food banks are here to help and hopefully there for people so they don’t have to resort to stealing.”
A spokeswoman for Iceland confirmed the chain had been “trialing” security boxes for bacon and cheese in some of their UK stores.
Amy Globe told SWNS: “The trial was run across some of our UK stores but didn’t prove as affective as the lamb saver boxes.
“Lamb was our most targeted item as it is one of the most costly and popular items in store.
“Therefore we have seen a dramatic reduction in theft since the boxes have been introduced.
“The security boxes weren’t as noticibly affective on lesser items such as bacon and cheese therefore we are unable to confirm they will remain a permanent fixture in stores.”
Iceland has 775 frozen food stores nation wide.