Consumer complaints in 2020 included hair in foods, glass in soup and insects and rodent droppings in products, according to the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI).

In total, 2,772 grievances were handled by the FSAI’s advice line this past year, with 34 percent relating to unfit food and 30 percent to poor hygiene standards.

This was a decrease on the 3,460 complaints in 2019. The reduction largely reflects the impact of COVID-19, where many food service businesses were temporarily closed for long periods throughout the year, according to officials.

Contamination of food with foreign objects was frequently recorded in 2020, according to FSAI. These reports included allegations of food containing insects, plastics and other objects.

Examples of complaints included hair reported several times in a number of foods; 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 mentioned.

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, the smell of sewage in food premises; and no hot water for handwashing.

Decline in food poisoning complaints
A total of 937 complaints were about unfit food, 823 on hygiene standards, 100 for incorrect information on food labeling and 78 concerning non-display of allergen information. In 2019, almost 800 complaints were recorded for suspected food poisoning but this fell to just 429 in 2020.

The advice line also handled 7,767 queries from people working in the food service sector, manufacturers, retailers, researchers, distributors and consultants. Some of the main topics were legislation on food labeling requirements, food supplements, requests for FSAI publications, information on Brexit, and food business start-up details.

The impact of COVID-19 and Brexit on food businesses resulted in 720 coronavirus related queries and 569 about the UK leaving the EU from companies.

FSAI previously reported that 42 enforcement orders were given to food businesses this past year compared to 125 in 2019. This was attributed to the impact of the pandemic as firms were closed for part of 2020.

Pamela Byrne, FSAI chief executive, urged businesses to take advantage of the available resources to ensure they are meeting legal requirements.

“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,” she said.

“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.”

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)