Organized criminals are selling stolen food to Calgary restaurants and police say it's becoming a major health concern.

According to police, a growing number of people are stealing meat and cheese from grocery stores around the city and then selling that to restaurants and unaware consumers.

A police unit has been set up specifically to deal with the trend but want bargain-hunting consumers to be wary of too-good-to-be-true food prices.

"When you go to a restaurant, you expect the food that ends up on your plate to have come from an appropriate, lawful and legitimate source," said Const. Andrew Critchley, who works with the new Retail Industry Crime Initiative.

"From A to Z, you expect that product to have been cared for — and it's not being cared for."

While some of the people stealing food are trying to feed their families, Critchley says many are actually stealing to sell the food to organized rings or feed a drug addiction.

Over the past few weeks, police have seen people make off with up to $300 from a single store — then go on to hit several more stores in one day.

In many cases, entire shopping carts full of food are snuck out of the store through fire exits or even through front entrances.

"These individuals sometimes can be very motivated to exit the store, sometimes because they have an addiction and they need to convert the merchandise that they're stealing into drugs or into cash so that they can buy drugs," said Critchley.

Police say often times the food is stored in a garage or in the back of a truck before being sold to restaurants and consumers.

'Don't take the chance,' police warn

None of the restaurants believed to be involved are being named by police but Critchley says the ones buying the stolen food are not ignorant of where it's coming from.

The investigation is still ongoing but police say charges will come when their investigation finishes.

In the meantime, bargain-hungry consumers are being advised to take a second look at that cheap offer of steak or seafood.

"With food, don't take the chance," said Critchley.

"If you can buy a $50 steak, piece of meat, for $20 from somebody selling it at a strip mall, don't do it."