The Food Safety Authority of Ireland’s (FSAI) Advice Line handled more than 3,400 consumer calls in 2017. A third related to unfit food.
This was an increase of 6% from 2016 with the number of complaints relating to non-display of allergen information up 42%.
FSAI said the majority of concerns relating to allergen information included confused messages regarding presence of allergens; lack of awareness by businesses of the legal requirement to display allergen information; allergens not highlighted on a food label and allergens present but not indicated or displayed.
Foreign objects in food
Contamination with foreign objects was frequently reported including food with insects and glass and other items.
Other contaminants in foods were a long black hair in a sandwich; larvae in a jar of beetroot; a piece of glass in a smoothie; maggots in mashed potato and a wasp in a packet of rashers.
In 2016, contaminants included a live insect in a packed dessert; a human nail in a takeaway and a cigarette butt in a bag of chips.
An increase of 17% was seen among complaints relating to incorrect information on food labels.
There were 9,576 queries to the advice line from people working in the food service sector; manufacturers; retailers; researchers and consultants.
The most popular were regarding legislation on food labelling requirements and information for businesses setting up operations.
Increase shows zero tolerance
Dr Pamela Byrne, chief executive of FSAI, said having people spotting and reporting inappropriate and unsafe food and practices provides information it can act upon.
“The year on year increase in our advice line statistics reflect a continued trend where consumers are showing they have zero-tolerance when it comes to poor food safety and hygiene standards in food products and in food premises,” she said.
“In 2017, we undertook a nationwide campaign to raise awareness of the importance and legal requirement for allergen information to be displayed and communicated accurately to consumers in food service establishments.
“We are seeing consumers becoming more aware and having a greater understanding of what they should expect from food establishments in Ireland.”
Other categories of complaints were 1,233 on unfit food, 896 on hygiene standards, 808 on suspect food poisoning and 183 on incorrect information on food labelling.
Of the complaints regarding poor hygiene standards - rats, mice and flies in premises were cited.
Others included poor personal hygiene habits of staff such as picking up food from the floor and including it to make a sandwich.