Although the Covid-19 pandemic saw a decline in the number of cases reported to the Food Safety Authority of Ireland’s (FSAI) Advice Line in 2020 compared to the previous
year, complaints included finding glass in soup, live insects crawling in rice, and sewage smells in premises.
Overall, complaints dropped from 3,460 reported in 2019 to 2,772 last year, the FSAI said. Just under two-thirds of complaints made related to unfit food and poor hygiene standards, with each category almost evenly split.
Contamination of food with foreign objects was frequently reported in 2020, including allegations of food containing insects, plastics and other foreign objects.
"Examples of complaints received included hair reported several times as being present in a number of foods; sharp glass in soup and fried noodles; live insects crawling through rice and; snails in a packet of spinach and a bag of frozen mixed fruits.
"Small pieces of stone, moths and rodent droppings in food were also reported," the FSAI said.
When it came to complaints regarding poor hygiene standards in food premises, examples included live mice and evidence of rodent activity in a café.
Staff’s lack of personal hygiene, handling cash and then proceeding to handle food without washing their hands, and no hot water for handwashing were some of the common themes, while the smell of sewage in food premises was also cited.
Of the complaints in 2020, over 900 related to unfit food, while more than 800 complaints were about hygiene standards.
More than 400 complaints related to suspected food poisoning, while 100 complaints related to incorrect information on food labelling.
Chief executive of the FSAI, Dr Pamela Byrne, said that even during the Covid-19 pandemic, complaints recorded remained "consistently high".
"Our advice line has been a valuable resource for consumers who continued to contact us with complaints about food safety and hygiene in food businesses even with the Level 5 restrictions which resulted in the temporary closures of many food businesses.
"The consistently high number of complaints shows us that consumers are continuing to grow increasingly aware of their right to safe food, and also the food safety and hygiene standards which should be in place across all food businesses," she said.
The FSAI is urging food businesses to take advantage of the resources available on its website to ensure they are meeting their legal requirements, she added.