An audit of the meat sector in Ireland has found a number of serious issues including forgery, use of meat with an expired date, and one company unable to identify its suppliers.

Some non-compliances undermined the safety of food or resulted in misleading information for consumers, said the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI).

The audit focused on food business compliance with meat labeling and traceability requirements. It covered supermarkets; butchers; food service establishments; storage and distribution sites; meat processing plants; and slaughterhouses.

Twenty-seven unannounced onsite audits were carried out between August 2021 and March 2022. Findings led to 10 formal enforcement actions by the FSAI or other agencies against six companies and 14 recommendations to improve compliance with food law. 

Labeling and traceability problems
One food service outlet was not registered with the relevant agency. Five other establishments, which were not registered or approved, were identified. Four were located in Ireland; including three meat traders/brokers and a meat transporter and one was in another European country.

More than 100 individual product labels were examined. Non-compliance for prepacked food was detected in 18 of 27 establishments. On five occasions, it was serious, including forgery of an identification mark and use of inaccurate establishment approval numbers on labels; misleading information on meat species and Halal status; and absence of mandatory details including allergens.

Other issues included use-by dates not supported by adequate shelf-life validation studies; absence of mandatory information other than allergens or use by dates; and breaches of poultry marketing standards.

For non-prepacked food, one violation related to misleading information given to consumers about the country of origin of poultry.

Non-compliance with traceability requirements was found in 10 establishments. Five of these were serious and included one firm unable to identify its meat suppliers; a lack of clarity on the status of material as either food intended for human consumption or animal by-products (ABP) not for human consumption; food not labeled or identified to help traceability and significant quantities of food not accounted for.

Other problems were breakdowns in traceability so meat could not be reliably traced back to the animal or group of animals it came from.

Good practices and other concerns
Good practices included routine DNA speciation testing, the use of short supply chains for meat ingredients and retention of digital records of labels, commercial documents and traceability records.

Non-compliance with other parts of food law, outside the scope of the audit, was detected at 17 establishments. At 14 of these, the issue was considered serious.

Examples were poor pest control procedures; foreign body contamination risks; undertaking unapproved activities; inadequate controls for allergen hazards; poor carcass hygiene including visible fecal contamination; re-processing of returned meat with expired use by dates; and freezing of fresh meat on its use by date so there would be no shelf-life remaining on completion of controlled defrosting.

Pamela Byrne, FSAI chief executive, said the audit found there was a varying degree of compliance with meat labeling and traceability requirements. 

“Fortunately, serious non-compliance with these requirements was confined to a small number of businesses. It is also disappointing that serious non-compliance outside the planned scope of the audit was observed at many of the businesses audited. We are continuing to work closely with the food inspectorate to explore opportunities to strengthen compliance with food law. We urge food businesses to ensure they are meeting their food safety legal requirements.”

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