Rodent droppings, hair, skin, glass found in food
HUNDREDS of consumers complained about insects, hair, skin, glass and rodent droppings in their food in premises last year.
The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) said they had received almost 2,000 complaints last year about food standards, which they passed on to environmental health officers (EHOs) for investigation.
From a snail crawling up someone's fork to a mouse scurrying through a restaurant, 1,981 people contacted the FSAI during 2009 to complain about unfit and out-of-date food, poor hygiene and suspected food poisoning. Some 858 of the 1,981 complaints were about food being unfit to eat, with contamination by foreign objects such as insects, bandages or mouse droppings among the most common.
Some 54 businesses were issued with closure orders or other enforcement actions last year, but FSAI information manager Edel Conway said they did not track whether enforcement was taken due to complaints or from routine monitoring of food businesses, because a number of steps might have been gone through before an order was issued.
The incident complained of might be a once-off, or occasionally even a vexatious complaint by a rival business, and it was up to the EHOs to establish if there was a systematic problem or food safety issue that could put customers at risk and required follow-up action, she said.
The FSAI helpline was there to provide consumers with a one-stop shop for complaints, and they could be sure they would be thoroughly investigated and follow-up information provided to the complainant if requested, she said.
In one case a consumer had complained to the FSAI that having seen a mouse run through a restaurant they were told by the manager that "sure it's gone now", which clearly wasn't satisfactory.
Some 363 people complained about suspected food poisoning, and in one case just before Christmas there was a cluster of complaints about the same restaurant, allowing health officials pinpoint the dodgy food source and ensure it was removed from sale.
There were also 408 complaints about bad hygiene, often relating to staff not washing their hands, touching their face before handling food, or handling raw and cooked food with the same kitchen utensils.
In one take-away, a customer was horrified to see a dog behind the counter being hand-fed food by a member of staff who was also serving the public.
There were another 112 complaints about incorrect information on food labels in 2009, with an increased number of these about supermarkets mislabelling the country of origin of fruit and vegetables.
Many complaints were also about out-of-date food remaining on sale.
Ms Conway said that the number of complaints to them had been stable in recent years. There were 54 enforcement actions taken last year, which was up on 2008 but down on 2007. Food poisoning cases were difficult to prove unless there was a cluster of cases confirmed by laboratory tests, Ms Conway said.