The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) has reviewed the main activities of this past year which marked the agency’s 20th anniversary.

The annual report covers enforcement, inspections, sampling, recalls, Brexit, and food fraud. FSAI also launched the authority’s 2019 to 2023 strategy and held a conference, “The Science of Food Safety – What’s our Future?” a two-day event with more than 300 participants.

During 2019, inspectors served food businesses with 108 closure orders, four improvement orders and 13 prohibition orders, and pursued two prosecutions against businesses throughout Ireland. In 2018, inspectors served firms with 95 closure orders, five improvement orders and 10 prohibition orders, and nine prosecutions.

Inspections, sampling and Brexit
There was a decline from 2015 to 2018 in the number of inspections carried out. However, there were 86 more planned food inspections in 2019 versus 2018, close to 50,000 checks.

In 2019, 56,755 samples were taken and tested, a decrease of 11.1 percent compared with 2018. Fewer samples were done by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Environmental Health Service (HSE), local authorities and other agencies. Only the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority took more samples in 2019 compared to 2018.

In support of food incidents, the authority carried out 205 risk assessments, including 108 in the chemical safety area, and provided advice for 10 incidents and one outbreak of Salmonella.

A consistent theme during 2019 was the impact Brexit preparations would have on other areas of official controls carried out by official agencies and the authority. The preparations, particularly for enhanced import controls at Dublin Port and Rosslare Europort, presented practical challenges in delivering normal levels of official controls, according to the report.

The FSAI answered more than 270 Brexit queries in 2019, mostly from the retailer or wholesaler and manufacturing sectors. The agency also supported the Environmental Health Service in training 50 environmental health officers assigned to Brexit work with a focus on food legislation, official controls and specific requirements for import controls.

Risk management of incidents
The Risk Management and Regulatory Affairs (RMRA) group dealt with 679 food incidents, compared with 799 in 2018. The reduction coincided with a temporary drop in following up notifications on food supplements because of staff vacancies.

Almost 2,900 notifications were submitted on food supplements. Of these, RMRA determined that 38 warranted follow-up as incidents – mainly related to vitamins and minerals at unsafe levels.

A total of 26 regulatory incidents were managed by the RMRA team covering unauthorized health claims on food labels, unsatisfactory levels of nutrients found on testing compared with levels declared on labels, and general labelling non-compliances like labels not in English, or containing misleading information.

A total of 107 public warnings about food being recalled or withdrawn from the market were issued with 55 food alerts and 52 food allergen alerts, representing a slight rise on the 102 alerts in 2018.

Consumer complaints about food or food premises, labelling, and allergens remained similar to the 3,460 in 2018. Complaints about allergen information, hygiene and food poisoning all increased during 2019.

Food fraud action
In 2019, the RASFF dealt with 3,997 events. Of these, just 34 were notified by Ireland. Some 21 notifications were about food which had originated in Ireland and 13 were related to foods in distribution in the country.

The Food Fraud Task Force, chaired by the authority, met three times during 2019.

During 2019, authorized officers from the FSAI, other state regulatory authorities, and official agencies conducted 52 investigations where breaches of food law and food fraud were suspected. FSAI was also part of a Garda-led operation targeting illegal equines for slaughter.

Ireland published four cases in 2019 relating to alcohol, beef, and fish in the European Commission’s Administrative Assistance and Cooperation/Food Fraud Network database. Eleven EU AAC FFN notifications were processed.

Returns submitted by Ireland to Europol as part of Operation Opson included seizures of food of animal origin such as meat and dairy, and alcohol.

During 2019, five protected disclosures were probed by the FSAI’s audit and investigations team. All allegations of wrongdoing were verified. Information in one disclosure resulted in the largest multi-agency, multidisciplinary investigation ever conducted by the authority.

Finally, FSAI, other Irish Government agencies and international partners, began to help Albania as a candidate for accession to the EU by strengthening its food safety, veterinary and plant health standards. This project should continue for the next three years and is supported by a €5 million ($5.9 million) grant.

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