Italian police raided top pasta makers on Tuesday over allegations that a cartel cooked up higher prices for the nation's favourite food, Italian media reported.

Officers from the country's financial police searched the headquarters of industry leader Barilla, De Cecco and the professional association of pasta manufacturers.

A Barilla spokesman confirmed that the company's head office in the northern city of Parma was raided, adding the firm was relaxed and was collaborating with authorities.

The raids came after 26 companies, including Barilla, were fined in February for raising prices by up to 36 percent - an increase that had led disgruntled consumer groups to threaten a "pasta strike" in 2007.

Italy's antitrust authorities fined the firms 12.5 million euros (18.2 million dollars), accusing them of "restricting competition in order to decide together on increasing the prices for the sale of pasta".

The cartel lasted between October 2006 and March 2008, the antitrust agency said.

Italians on average eat 28 kilograms (62 pounds) of pasta a year per capita - by far the highest consumption in the world, according to the Association of Pasta Manufacturers of the European Union.