Over 2,772 consumer complaints were handled by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland’s (FSAI) Advice Line in 2020, with 34% of complaints relating to unfit food and 30% to poor hygiene standards.
Overall, the 2020 complaints saw a decrease on the 3,460 complaints reported in 2019. The reduction in numbers largely reflects the impact of COVID 19, where many food service businesses were temporarily closed for long periods throughout the year. All complaints received by the FSAI in 2020 were followed up and investigated by food inspectors throughout the country.
The FSAI pointed out that contamination of food with foreign objects was frequently reported in 2020. These reports included allegations of food containing insects, plastics and other foreign objects. Examples of complaints received included hair reported several times as being present in a number of foods; sharp glass in soup and fried noodles; live insects crawling through rice and; snails in a packet of spinach and a bag of frozen mixed fruits. Small pieces of stone, moths and rodent droppings in food were also reported.
Complaints regarding poor hygiene standards in food premises cited live mice and evidence of rodent activity in a café; staff’s lack of personal hygiene, handling cash and then proceeded to start handling food without washing their hands; the smell of sewage in food premises and; no hot water for hand washing.
Consumer complaints ranged from reports of food unfit to eat, to non-display of allergen information:
- 937 complaints on unfit food
- 823 complaints on hygiene standards
- 429 complaints on suspect food poisoning
- 100 complaints on incorrect information on food labelling
- 78 complaints on non-display of allergen information
- 34 complaints on advertising
- 371 ‘other’ (i.e. unregistered food businesses, COVID 19 restrictions)
The FSAI’s Advice Line also offers advice and information and during 2020, there were 7,767 queries from people working in the food service sector; manufacturers; retailers; researchers; distributors; and consultants. Some of the most popular queries were regarding legislation on food labelling requirements; food supplements, requests for FSAI publications, as well as information on Brexit and food business start-up information.
Also, during 2020, the impact of both COVID 19 and Brexit on food businesses resulted in 720 COVID 19 related queries and 569 Brexit related queries from food businesses. In response, detailed Brexit information for food businesses who trade with the UK and advice on considerations when re-opening a food business following COVID 19 restrictions were added to the FSAI website.
Dr Pamela Byrne, Chief Executive, FSAI, commented: “During the COVID-19 pandemic, our Advice Line has been a valuable resource for consumers who continued to contact us with complaints about food safety and hygiene in food businesses even with the level 5 restrictions which resulted in the temporary closures of many food businesses. The consistently high number of complaints shows us that consumers are continuing to grow increasingly aware of their right to safe food, and also the food safety and hygiene standards which should be in place across all food businesses. We are urging food businesses to take advantage of the resources available on our website to ensure they are meeting their legal requirements.”
The FSAI Advice Line is open from 10am to 4pm weekdays, is manned by trained advisors and food scientists and can be reached at email@example.com or through the ‘make a complaint’ section of the FSAI website.