FSAI Issued 167 Food Alerts and Food Allergen Alerts in 2020

Thursday, 18 March 2021

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) today announced that 167 food alerts and food allergen alerts were issued in 2020, compared to 107 in 2019. Of these, 112 were food alerts and 55 were food allergen alerts. Food alerts are notifications issued by the FSAI relating to an identified hazard i.e., a biological, chemical or physical agent in food or the condition of food contact material, with the potential to cause an adverse health effect. Food allergen alerts are issued regarding the undeclared presence of a food allergen where it poses a possible risk to consumers who have a food allergy or intolerance to a particular food or food ingredient.

The food alerts and food allergen alerts are issued as a result of a food incident and during 2020, the FSAI dealt with 661 food incidents, compared to 679 in 2019. Food incidents arise for a variety of reasons such a food inspector who identifies a food safety issue; a complaint from a consumer; the food business informing the FSAI of problem with a certain food; a laboratory test result indicating the food is contaminated with a microorganism or a chemical; or notifications on food safety issues from other Member States through the European Commission’s Rapid Alert Systems for Food and Feed (RASFF) network.

Food Alerts

The 112 food alerts issued resulted in either product recalls or withdrawals from the Irish market for various reasons including microbiological, chemical, foreign body contamination or mislabelling. In 2020, the presence of microorganisms accounted for 33 of the recalls, with Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella most commonly occurring. The presence of the unauthorised pesticide ethylene oxide* in sesame seeds accounted for an unusually large number of recalls. Other examples are the presence of plastic in prepared meals; metal pieces in yoghurts, and faulty seals on packaged foods.

Food Allergen Alerts

The FSAI issued 55 food allergen alerts issued in 2020. EU food law provides that 14 specified categories of allergens that must be declared and highlighted on label. If this is not done or is done incorrectly this may result in a food allergen alert being issued in order to protect vulnerable consumers. In Ireland in 2020, milk was the most commonly incorrectly labelled or declared allergen, accounting for 21 of the food allergen alerts. Mustard, cereals, eggs, peanut and nuts accounted for most of the other allergen alerts. Three in every 100 people in Ireland have a food allergy and the seriousness of these occurrences can result in the loss of life to an individual in its most extreme form. It can also result in people requiring urgent medical treatment due to severe allergic reactions if they eat food containing the allergen. In 2020, the main reasons for the food allergen alerts were the allergen was unknowingly incorporated in the product and, therefore, not listed in the ingredients; the ingredients list/label was not in English; packing of a product in the wrong pack; or failure to highlight an allergen properly in the ingredients list. 

According to Dr Pamela Byrne, Chief Executive, FSAI, it is important for consumers to have confidence that the food they are buying, or eating is labelled correctly and free from undeclared ingredients and foreign objects.

    “It is an offence to place unsafe food on the market, and only food which meets legal requirements should be on the market. If a food business operator considers or has reason to believe that a food is not in compliance with food safety requirements, they must immediately initiate procedures to either withdraw or recall the food in question from the market, inform the competent authorities, and if necessary, inform consumers. Food alerts and food allergen alerts greatly assist in this process of ensuring consumers are informed and protected,” said Dr Byrne.

   “Issuing food alerts and food allergen alerts reflects the severity of risk, some of which have the potential to cause serious harm to consumers. Food alerts and food allergen alerts are important for informing consumers, food businesses and food inspectors that a food product could pose a risk to consumer health. We encourage anyone with a food allergy (or their parents/guardians) to subscribe to get the FSAI food allergen alerts directly. They can receive an email and/or SMS text alert notification when specific foods are found to contain undeclared allergens. The alert system is free to use and you can subscribe by visiting our website at www.fsai.ie/subscribe. The subscription service is also available for food alerts,” continued Dr Byrne.

-ENDS-


Note to Editors:

For the full list of food alerts and food allergen alerts issued in 2020, please see the following links:
Food Alerts 2020
Food Allergen Alerts 2020


*Ethylene oxide is a pesticide that is not permitted in foods in the EU. It was detected at varying levels following testing. Although the consumption of products containing the contaminated sesame seeds does not pose an immediate risk to health, there may be heath issues if there is continued consumption of ethylene oxide over a long period. Exposure to this substance needs to be minimized which has resulted in numerous recalls and withdrawals of affected sesame seeds and products manufactured using unauthorised treated seeds.