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Food Safety and Staffing Among Top Concerns for Food Businesses in Ireland

Monday, 29 July 2019

National attitudinal research published that shows from a food regulatory perspective, food allergens and ingredients labelling is the number one concern for Irish food businesses

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) today revealed national attitudinal research that shows from a food regulatory perspective, food allergens and ingredients labelling is the number one concern for Irish food businesses. The research surveyed senior executives from a diverse range of food businesses on their concerns about food safety and the food industry’s current operating environment. The research shows that more than 7 out of 10 food businesses are increasingly confident about food safety regulation in Ireland, with almost three quarters (73%) stating that food produced in Ireland is safer than it was five years ago.

Despite the increased confidence, numerous food safety concerns remain for food businesses. The food industry is apprehensive about allergens and ingredients labelling; food hygiene and handling requirements; and other widely noted food safety concerns including the use of hormones, pesticides, antibiotics and additives.

  • Allergens and ingredients labelling comes out on top as the greatest food safety worry for Irish food businesses, with over half (53%) listing it as one of their top three concerns.
  • Food hygiene and handling requirements (36%) and carcinogenic chemicals in foods (30%) also ranked highly amongst those surveyed.
  • There is a strong confidence in food safety measures among the industry, however, around one fifth (18%) are calling for more food safety regulation and enforcement.
  • Around one third (31%) of food businesses do not feel well enough informed in terms of food safety information, despite a high proportion claiming to cover this in-house or via consultants.

Dr Pamela Byrne, CEO, FSAI called on food businesses to address food safety issues highlighted in the survey.

    “We would encourage food businesses who feel they lack adequate food safety information to contact the FSAI for more guidance and instructions. While the majority of food businesses acknowledge their own responsibility for ensuring the food they serve is safe to eat, it is unacceptable that over 1 in 10 see this as the responsibility of the FSAI, which it is not – the responsibility lies with food businesses. The consequences of allergen information not being provided and food hygiene standards not being adhered to are very serious and the FSAI, together with the food inspectorate, is continuously working to ensure that businesses are not flaunting these requirements.”

Some 7 in 10 (69%) of Irish food businesses view the availability of skilled workers as a serious concern. This reflects the large decrease in unemployment as the economy has gradually recovered and moved towards full employment in recent years, reducing the pool of workers available to food businesses.

Brexit is the second greatest future worry for food businesses, with over two thirds (67%) identifying its unknown impact as a business concern. Food businesses are particularly concerned about increases in costs of supplies, tariffs and exchange rates in respect of Brexit on the Irish food industry:

  • Nearly 8 out of 10 (78%) businesses think Brexit may increase the cost of supplies
  • Almost three quarters (74%) of businesses fear tariffs could increase costs
  • A large majority (68%) are wary that volatile exchange rates could impact on business

According to Dr Byrne, the research informs regulatory and policy decisions.

    “Our research shows that difficulties in attracting skilled staff and increased regulations and taxes are among the perceived threats that food businesses are citing. At the same time, the final outcome of Brexit is still not yet known almost three years since the referendum took place, and this is also concerning food businesses here.”

Dr Byrne welcomed the confidence expressed by the food industry in both food safety regulation, and the FSAI as an organisation, saying: “The FSAI is one of Europe’s first food safety regulatory agencies and we want food businesses to know that we are responsive, understanding of their concerns and are available to them to advise them on compliance. The FSAI continues to work with food businesses to ensure that food safety regulations are complied with and that Ireland’s food sector continues to maintain its reputation as being amongst the safest in the world. With that in mind, we are pleased that the large majority of businesses have expressed satisfaction the work carried out by the FSAI. This research demonstrates that there are a number of different factors concerning the food industry and the FSAI will work to ensure these don’t distract businesses from ensuring that their food is safe for consumers to eat.”

The national attitudinal research was undertaken by Amárach and involved interviews with over 200 food businesses across a comprehensive range of national and international food business SMEs. Interviewees worked in a range of management roles including: food business owners, directors, managers, chefs, assistant managers, health and safety and training managers. The food businesses ranged across importers, manufacturers, distributors, manufacturers, service sector, and retailers.