The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) issued an average of two alerts per week in 2019 about products subject to withdrawal or recall.

This past year, a 107 alerts were issued made up of 55 food alerts and 52 food allergen alerts compared to 56 and 46, respectively in 2018.

Food alerts relate to an identified hazard such as a biological, chemical or physical agent in food or food contact materials with potential to cause an adverse health effect. Food allergen alerts are about possible risk to consumers who have allergies or intolerance to a particular food or food ingredient.

Examples of alerts
Examples of food alerts varied from E. coli O26 in unpasteurized cheese; metal pieces in prepared dishes; detection of arsenic above safe levels in bottled drinking water; foods found to contain insects; detection of Listeria monocytogenes in products such as poultry, dairy and fruit; undeclared alcohol in a non-alcoholic beverage; and Salmonella in hummus.

Milk, cereals, eggs and nuts were amongst the most common allergens incorrectly labeled or declared in 2019. Reasons for such alerts were the allergen was unknowingly in the product and not listed in the ingredients; ingredients list or label not in English; a product in the wrong pack; or failure to highlight an allergen properly in the ingredients list.

In 2019, FSAI dealt with 679 food incidents, resulting in 107 food alerts and allergen alerts. Food incidents can arise for reasons such as an inspection identifying a food safety issue; a complaint from a consumer; the business informing FSAI that they have a problem with a certain food; a lab test result showing the food is contaminated; or notifications from other countries through the European Commission’s Rapid Alert Systems for Food and Feed (RASFF) network.

Pamela Byrne, chief executive of FSAI, said more food businesses are contacting the authorities and ensuring timely recalls and allowing the agency to alert consumers and the trade, when necessary.

“We encourage food businesses to deal immediately with problems as they arise and put the protection of consumers first and foremost. The food alerts and food allergen alerts issued by the FSAI demonstrate the serious risks to consumers’ health that can arise from failure to follow the correct food safety procedures.”

Food complaints in Ireland
The FSAI also revealed more than 3,460 consumer complaints were handled by its advice line in 2019.

There was a slight rise on the 3,424 complaints reported in 2018 but the number relating to non-display of allergen information was up significantly at 25 percent. Issues relating to poor hygiene standards made up 19 percent of complaints and suspected food poisoning incidents were up 8 percent.

The line recorded 1,134 complaints on hygiene standards, 1,082 on unfit food, 792 for suspect food poisoning, 149 on incorrect information on food labeling and 135 for non-display of allergen information.

Reports of contamination with foreign objects included allegations of food containing insects and plastic. Hair was reported several times in a number of foods, as well as false nails, small pieces of stone, metal and plastic. Other reports included a snail in a whole chicken; a caterpillar in pork chops; and a butterfly or moth in fresh cream.

There was an increase in complaints from consumers in relation to inadequate pest control in food premises and this was also reflected in enforcement orders. Complaints on poor hygiene standards cited live mice and evidence of rodent activity in food handling and storage areas; staff failing to wash hands when cooking and serving food; pigeons in the deli area; and flies throughout a premises.

Byrne said figures show consumers are becoming increasingly attentive as to how firms are expected to operate in terms of food safety in Ireland.

“By reporting their incidents around hygiene, labeling, food safety practices and pest control, members of the public and people working in the food sector provide us with the information we need to do our work effectively,” she said.

“Pest control is critical because pests can carry harmful bacteria that can contaminate foods. This can cause illness or spoil food. Pests can also cause financial damage to food businesses and affect their reputation.

“In 2019, we noticed a significant increase in complaints around incorrect allergen information, which continues to be a concern to us. The importance of food businesses having correct allergen information displayed cannot be underestimated, as failures in this area can have serious consequences for the health of some consumers. It is also a legal requirement.”

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