The number of food incidents rose this past year but recalls and sampling declined, according to the Food Safety Authority of Ireland’s (FSAI) annual report.

During 2021, 154 warnings about food being recalled or withdrawn from the market were issued, a slight decrease from 2020. FSAI also dealt with more incidents than the year before. The number of complaints from consumers about food or food premises, labelling, and allergens was higher than in 2020. Challenges included the COVID-19 pandemic, Brexit and limited resources.

Warnings included 119 food alerts and 35 allergen warnings. The principal reasons were due to the presence of foreign matter, pathogens such as Salmonella or Listeria, or chemical contaminants like ethylene oxide.

Incidents and fraud
FSAI handled 724 food incidents, compared with 663 in 2020. A multi-agency task force was also created to assess the threat posed by cannabis edibles.

The FSAI’s microbiological expertise helped the Health Service Executive and a company to resolve an issue with Salmonella contamination of dried soups and sauces.

From September to November this year, FSAI is doing a survey on the microbiological quality of chilled and frozen coated poultry meat products intended to be eaten cooked for Salmonella.

Work is continuing on the first Irish Food Fraud Strategic Assessment (IFFSA). A total of 171 food fraud investigations were conducted in 2021, up from 76 the year before. FSAI was part of a Garda-led operation on the illegal slaughter of horses.

Food safety concerns identified during these probes led to the removal of more than 46,000 kilograms of food. One case resulted in 51 2,4- Dinitrophenol (DNP) capsules being taken off the market. Work with online platforms such as Facebook and Instagram led to 28 illegal food business pages being taken down.

Operation Opson results in 2021 included seizures of the DNP capsules, 384 kilograms of food of animal origin, and 2 kilograms of a seafood-type product. Ireland published five cases relating to food supplements and meat in the EU Commission’s Administrative Assistance and Cooperation and Food Fraud Network database.

In 2020, FSAI co-founded the International Heads of Food Agencies Forum with the Saudi Food and Drug Authority and Food Standards Australia New Zealand as well as continuing its role as secretariat at the European Heads of Food Safety Agencies for 2020 to 2022.

Enforcement and sampling
In 2021, there were 1,727 more food business operators in Ireland compared with 2020. There was a decline from 2019 to 2021 in inspections carried out but the figure went up from 2020.

Food inspectors served businesses with 47 closure orders, two improvement orders and 10 prohibition orders, and took 10 prosecutions against companies. Prosecutions doubled and closure orders also increased from 2020 when some premises were shut due to the COVID-19 pandemic but such orders were still below 2019 levels.

Types of recurring issues were poor cleaning and sanitation of premises; poor personal hygiene; lack of running water; inadequate handwashing facilities; incorrect food storage; lack of, or an ineffective, pest control program; structural problems from a lack of maintenance; and lack of, or an inadequate, food safety management system.

One prosecution involved Arrabawn Co-Operative Society, which was convicted and fined €40,000 ($39,200) on eight counts for breaches of food law at its liquid milk processing plant in Kilconnell, Co Galway in court in November 2021. An investigation found documents had been illegally forged or altered and then provided to customers, third-party auditors and to the FSAI and DAFM officers.

A number of food microbiology laboratories had to redirect staff and facilities to support testing of clinical samples for the COVID-19 virus, reducing their capacity to carry out official food controls.

In 2021, 49,658 samples were taken and tested compared with 50,261 in 2020. The decline from 56,755 in 2019 reflects the need to comply with social distancing requirements and premises being shut or not operating due to the pandemic, according to the report.

More than 3,414 consumer complaints were handled by the FSAI’s advice line in 2021, with 36 percent relating to unfit food and 24 percent to poor hygiene standards.

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