FSAI records rise in illegal food business investigations

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Irish officials investigated almost 50 unregistered food businesses in 2020 which is more than double the figure from the year before.

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) was part of enquiries into 47 unregistered firms this past year compared to 19 in 2019.

Investigations resulted in 17 tons of unfit or unsafe food taken off the market. Most cases involved the sale of meat or ready-to-eat products.

Home-produced food sold online
Officials found many of the businesses were using social media platforms such as Facebook, Facebook marketplace, Adverts.ie, Done Deal and Instagram to advertise their food products. WhatsApp is also used to receive orders.

These businesses were operating illegally without the knowledge or supervision of authorities. The law requires businesses to notify the relevant authority irrespective of their size or type, prior to starting up.

Some of them were in domestic kitchens or private dwellings with inadequate food safety processes and procedures, because of temporary closure of the business in which the people were employed in because of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

Companies were producing, processing or distributing various foods such as baked goods; eggs; ready-to-eat sushi products; poultry; as well as raw and cooked meats.

In 2020, five closure orders, five compliance notices and three prohibition orders were served on unapproved food businesses. Two warrants were also obtained to gain access to unregistered firms operating from domestic sites.

Other agencies involved included the Environmental Health Service of the Health Service Executive, Local Authority Veterinary Service and Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. In some cases, An Garda Siochana (the Irish Police force) also assisted.

Concern at increase
The FSAI said there could also be an allergy risk if food isn’t labeled correctly or there is no allergen information, or if it isn’t prepared correctly and there are no food safety management procedures to ensure cross-contamination doesn’t occur.

The agency had previously revealed the closure of three unregistered online sushi takeaway restaurants operating from the bedroom of a house in Dublin.

Pamela Byrne, FSAI chief executive, urged consumers to be vigilant and only buy food from reputable businesses.

“Consumers have a right to safe food and bogus operators seeking to make a quick profit at the risk of potentially making consumers sick or selling non-compliant or fraudulent foodstuffs will be pursued using the legal powers available to us,” she said.

“The vast majority of food businesses comply with their legal requirement to notify prior to operating; however, it is very concerning to see an increase in the number of unregistered food businesses found to be operating in 2020.

“There is no doubt that COVID-19 has presented many challenges for the food industry and for people working in the sector, however, this does not change the legal requirements which are in place to protect consumer health. All food business owners, big or small, whether trading from a business premises, in the home, from a mobile unit, food truck and/or online, must be aware of food hygiene and food safety legislation.”

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