Finding hair, insects, small stones, tablets and pieces of glass, wood, plastic, paper and metal in food were just some of the subjects of complaints by consumers last year to the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI).
Overall, the number of complaints jumped sharply – by 18.9 per cent – on the figures for the previous year, continuing a rising trend over the past decade.
Unfit food and poor hygiene standards amounted to 59 per cent of consumer complaints, with 1,258 and 1,124 complaints respectively. Foreign body contamination of food was also frequently reported in 2022.
Among the complaints were reports of a consumer finding a live snail in a pack of spinach, live maggots in fried chicken, a dirty and possibly bloody plaster in a curry and a false nail in garlic cheese chips.
Customers also said they found a piece of glass in coffee beans, metal shavings in chicken wings and part of a disposable glove in a rocky road biscuit.
In total, 7,363 queries and complaints were handled by the FSAI’s advice line in 2022. There were 4,058 complaints from consumers, with 31 per cent of complaints relating to unfit food and 28 per cent to poor hygiene standards.
Complaints regarding unfit food cited meats that were not cooked completely, mould found on food products, food on sale past its use-by date, and food served cold instead of hot.
The second most frequently reported topic related to poor hygiene standards.
Hygiene issues reported included fish deliveries left outside in the sun, excessive flies and overall dirty food business premises, as well as rodent droppings being spotted, bathrooms lacking soap, staff not washing hands and other poor staff hygiene habits.
Suspected food poisoning led to 1,122 complaints, labelling to 150, and allergen information garnered 127 complaints.
All complaints were followed up and investigated by food inspectors throughout the State, the FSAI said.
Communications manager Jane Ryder said a lot of people sent photographs with their complaints: “On our online complaint form, you can attach a photo, so a lot of consumers do add a photo to their complaint,” she said.
“It would be out of the consumers’ hands once they have sent the complaint into us. We would then pass it on to the relevant inspector. Generally speaking, it is environmental health officers and the HSE, and they will go in and inspect the premises to see if there’s omething.
“Our remit is about making sure the food is safe to eat, so that is our only focus,” she said, adding that it was irrelevant to the agency whether a restaurant or shop gave the complaining consumer their money back when the issue was raised directly with them at the time it arose.
“We just want to make sure that if there was something wrong where they were selling unfit food, that they do not do it again,” Ms Ryder said.
In addition to complaints, the agency said its advice line had received 3,305 food safety queries from people working in the food service sector, or in manufacturers, retailers, distributors, as well as from researchers, consultants and consumers.
Popular topics included best practice in food business, food safety legislation, food supplement legislation, requests for FSAI publications and imports/exports among others.
Chief executive Dr Pamela Byrne said the reporting of food safety issues played a vital role in complementing the work of the food safety inspectorate.
“We commend members of the public, as well as the food industry, for reporting food safety issues. Food businesses have a legal obligation to provide safe food, and people noticing and contacting us is of great benefit to the environmental health officers, veterinary and agricultural inspectors, sea-fisheries inspection officers and the laboratories,” she said.
“While they carry out routine inspections throughout the State and analyse food samples, complaints assist in targeting an issue and ensuring possible threats to public health are dealt with quickly. The increase in complaints is a positive indication of people’s heightened awareness of their right to expect high standards of hygiene and food safety in relation to food.
“We encourage anyone who encounters poor hygiene or food safety standards in a food business to report the matter to the FSAI, so that it can be investigated by the relevant food safety inspectorate,” Dr Byrne said.
The FSAI advice line is open from 10am to 4pm on weekdays and is manned by food scientists and trained advisers. It can also be reached at email@example.com or through the online complaint form on the FSAI website.