The number of enforcement orders served on businesses for breaching food safety legislation in 2020 in Ireland fell by 67 percent compared to the year before.

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) reported that 42 enforcement orders were given to food businesses compared to 125 in 2019.

Officials say the decline reflects the impact of COVID-19, where large numbers of food service businesses were temporarily closed for long periods throughout the year, and is not necessarily because of improved food safety practices.

A total of 31 closure orders, two improvement orders and nine prohibition orders were issued by environmental health officers in the Health Service Executive (HSE), veterinary inspectors in local authorities, and FSAI officials to food companies.

Recurring food safety issues that led to enforcement orders included unregistered and unsupervised businesses; filthy conditions; evidence of rodent infestations and droppings; the presence of cockroaches; failure to maintain temperatures of foodstuffs; unsuitable food storage facilities; and improper or lack of water facilities.

Pamela Byrne, FSAI chief executive, said while in a normal year it would be encouraging to see such a drop in enforcement orders it was likely that the 2020 figures reflect actions taken because of COVID-19 restrictions.

“Notwithstanding this, 42 enforcement orders are still too many, as it shows that, unfortunately, there continues to be a minority of food businesses not complying with their legal requirements. All food businesses must recognize that they are legally bound to ensure that the food they produce is safe to eat. Food businesses must comply with food law and all breaches of food safety legislation will be dealt with to the full extent of the law,” she said.

COVID-19 impact on controls in Sweden
Meanwhile, a survey by Livsmedelsverket (the National Food Agency) in Sweden has revealed planned food controls have been heavily impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic.

The agency found nearly three out of four authorities in the country have not been able to carry out all the food control work they had planned in 2020, with many saying their resources are stretched and they needed to prioritize.

In total, 80 percent of authorities stated that food control had been affected. This includes planned visits being cancelled and added checks in restaurants because of the pandemic.

Another problem is that food control is financed through fees paid by companies in advance. If checks could not be carried out because of the pandemic, some authorities are wondering how to handle the fees already paid.

Helena Storbjörk Windahl, head of the control management department at Livsmedelsverket, said many authorities have adapted checks by carrying out digital inspections but the exceptional situation is making it difficult to give guidance and find solutions.

European Commission regulation allowed member states to apply temporary measures as part of the control system on the production of organic products and certain procedures in the Trade Control and Expert System (TRACES).

Another piece of legislation permitted changes to official controls and other activities to contain risks to human, animal and plant health and animal welfare due to the COVID-19 situation until February 2021.

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