Tens of thousands of bread baskets being illegally used by bakeries and caterers have been recovered in the past six months by Bakers Basco, an organisation set up by the industry to crack down on companies who hold on to baskets following deliveries.

Basco’s national team of 12 recovery officers, working in conjunction with the police, Trading Standards, Customs officials and Environmental Health Officers, have carried out raids on a wide range of businesses suspected of using stolen bread baskets, including bakers.

Businesses face heavy fines and seizure of equipment, if found guilty. However, Paul Taylor, Basco’s general manager, pointed out that most bakers did not realise they were breaking the law by holding on to bread baskets and were not fined. "I’d say 90% of bakers don’t know they are committing a crime and are now proactive in making baskets available for collection," he said.

Although Taylor estimates tens of thousands of baskets have been recovered, he said this is "just the tip of the iceberg" with millions of baskets estimated to have gone missing in the past decade.

Basco has teamed up with crate company PHS Teacrate to offer firms the option to replace stolen bread baskets with legitimate alternatives. PHS Teacrate can deliver replacement crates anywhere in the country within 24 hours. Teacrate’s sales manager Bill Smith said: "We offer rental or purchase to suit the client’s budget, so financial outlay is kept to a minimum."