More than seven out of 10 businesses are increasingly confident about food safety regulation in Ireland, according to a survey.

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) found almost three quarters of firms said food produced in the country is safer than it was five years ago.

The research showed food allergens and ingredients labeling is the top issue for Irish businesses with more than half, 53 percent, listing it as one of their top three concerns. Industry was apprehensive about allergens and ingredients labeling; food hygiene and handling requirements; and other concerns including use of hormones, pesticides, antibiotics and additives.

Different factors of concern
Food hygiene and handling requirements at 36 percent and carcinogenic chemicals in foods at 30 percent ranked highly.

There was confidence in food safety measures among the industry, however, about a fifth called for more regulation and enforcement.

About a third of companies did not feel well enough informed regarding food safety information, despite most claiming to cover the topic in-house or via consultants.

Pamela Byrne, CEO at FSAI, said the agency wants businesses to know it is responsive, understands their concerns, and is available to advise them on compliance.

“This research demonstrates that there are a number of different factors concerning the food industry and the FSAI will work to ensure these don’t distract businesses from ensuring that their food is safe for consumers to eat.”

Research was conducted by Amárach and involved interviews with more than 200 food businesses across national and international small and medium enterprises.

Business responsibility
Byrne said business must address food safety issues highlighted in the survey.

“While the majority of food businesses acknowledge their own responsibility for ensuring the food they serve is safe to eat, it is unacceptable that over one in 10 see this as the responsibility of the FSAI, which it is not – the responsibility lies with food businesses,” she said.

“The consequences of allergen information not being provided and food hygiene standards not being adhered to are very serious and the FSAI, together with the food inspectorate, is continuously working to ensure that businesses are not flaunting these requirements.”

The United Kingdom leaving the European Union later this year, a process known as Brexit, was the second future worry for companies, with two thirds identifying its unknown impact as a business concern. Food firms are particularly concerned about increases in costs of supplies, tariffs and exchange rates on the Irish food industry.

Nearly eight in 10 operators of food businesses think Brexit may increase the cost of supplies, almost three quarters fear tariffs could increase costs and more than two thirds, 68 percent, are wary that volatile exchange rates could impact business.

Consumer and food handler surveys
Earlier this year, FSAI revealed research with consumers on food safety and hygiene, and concerns about food and the industry.

Consumers admitted they show risky behavior in relation to food handling at home. Nearly half did not pay full attention to use-by dates, with seven out of 10 reported having used food past its use-by date. Just more than six in 10 leave leftovers to cool out of the fridge overnight to eat in the next couple of days. Nearly half the people storied food in the fridge without wrapping.

A different survey of food handlers in Ireland, published in the journal Food Control, found only 16 percent of respondents could list all the 14 allergens.

The study discovered nearly 10 percent of 689 food workers included in the survey do not wash their hands every time they use toilet. Respondents were asked questions about working while unwell, critical limits, food allergens and hand hygiene.

A total of 28 percent said they never received food safety training, suggesting insufficient compliance with this legislative requirement, according to researchers.

Those working in canteens had the highest knowledge score and highest percentage of level 3 training. Staff at bars were found to have the lowest knowledge score and percentage of level 3 training and the highest level of never having received food safety training.

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