The FSAI Advice Line received 3,202 complaints in 2016 which is up from 2, 739 (17%) on 2015, with the number about food poisoning up considerably at 45%.
Poor hygiene standards were the second highest with an increase of 34% compared with 2015, while complaints about incorrect information on food labelling were up 15%.
Examples of incidents reported for 2015 were an animal tooth in jam; a beetle in a burger bun; a worm in a chicken nugget and a snail in pick ‘n’ mix sweets.
Foreign objects in food
In 2016, foreign object reports included a long black hair in garlic sauce; glass in a dessert and plastic rope in a takeaway meal.
Other complaints regarding poor hygiene standards referred to dirty customer toilets; rats on the premises; and one case of a staff member at a deli sneezing into their hands and then preparing sandwiches without washing their hands.
FSAI received 1,126 complaints on unfit food, 864 complaints on hygiene standards, 741 complaints on suspect food poisoning and 60 complaints on non-display of allergen information.
Edel Smyth, information manager at FSAI, said the statistics continue to show an upward trend with consumers expressing more concern, being more conscious about what they consume and being increasingly vigilant about food safety issues.
“There is a culture developing amongst consumers, which indicates zero tolerance towards poor hygiene standards and, in particular, food that is unfit to eat.
“As consumers in Ireland become more vocal about the standards they expect from food establishments, we are seeing a welcomed increase in the level of complaints we receive directly from consumers.”
The advice line received 10,497 queries from consumers; people working in the food service sector; manufacturers; retailers; researchers and consultants.
The most popular were regarding legislation on food labelling requirements; allergens and additives, as well as requests for FSAI publications.
It operates from 9am to 5pm on weekdays with trained advisors and food scientists and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or the ‘make a complaint’ section of the FSAI website.
FSA allergy alerts
Meanwhile, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has published a summary of food incidents between October and December 2016.
The agency issued 34 food notices, of which 17 were allergy alerts, with the top three undeclared allergens being milk, nuts and gluten.
FSA was involved in nine incidents linked to possible risks of food poisoning and seven relating to physical or chemical contamination.
Foodborne outbreaks included norovirus linked with a restaurant, Campylobacter from raw cow's drinking milk and Shigella sonnei from sandwiches.
The source was unknown for all incidents and the agency did not mention the number affected.
FSA and Food Standards Scotland (FSS) have also started a project to understand more about food recalls within the retail sector.
Richard Hoskin, head of incidents and resilience at the FSA, said the system for recalls and withdrawals has not been reviewed before.
"The project aims to identify what currently works well and where improvements could be made to better protect and inform the consumer.
"We have set up an External Stakeholder Reference Group (ESRG) made up of bodies representing industry, consumers and regulators to help us interpret research findings and identify recommendations to improve the current system.”
The agencies are expecting to begin putting in place recommended changes in late spring 2017.