The number of queries and food-related complaints handled by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland’s (FSAI) advice line increased significantly in 2013 compared with the previous year.

Of the 13,269 queries and complaints, 2,846 related specifically to complaints by consumers about food and food premises, up 12.5 per cent on 2012, while 10,429 involved requests for advice across a range of food-related areas, up nine per cent on 2012.

Of note only 33 calls to the advice line in 2013 related to the horsemeat contamination, while some 267 queries were received in relation to the Hepatitis A outbreak associated with imported frozen berries, which was an issue last year.

In addition calls seeking advice included a 20 per cent increase in information requests on food labelling.

According to the FSAI, the increased activity reflects a growing awareness among consumers of the need to report poor hygiene practice and an increase in demand among food businesses for information about labelling requirements and resources for food business start-ups.

Consumer complaints ranged from reports of food unfit to eat, to inaccurate labelling. The breakdown is as follows: 1,190 complaints on unfit food; 566 complaints on suspect food poisoning; 587 complaints on hygiene standards; 192 complaints on incorrect information on food labelling; and 311 other.

According to the FSAI, the contamination of food with foreign objects was frequently reported by consumers.

“In 2013, these reports included food contaminated with plastic, metal and glass fragments, as well as other foreign objects. For example, consumers reported the presence of meat inside chocolate yoghurt; a dirty fingernail in baby food; a chicken’s head in frozen chicken wings; a screw in a pasta dish; glass in a ready meal; live insects in a packet of dates; and a human tooth in a Chinese takeaway.”

All complaints received by the FSAI were followed up and investigated by environmental health officers throughout the country, it added.

Commenting on the statistics, Edel Smyth, information manager with the FSAI, said the increase in contact made to the FSAI is a positive development.

“On one hand, more food businesses are contacting us seeking to raise their food safety standards while, on the other, consumers are increasingly vigilant and aware of the need to report bad practice or experiences they’ve had where food safety has been compromised,” said Smyth.

“We continue to encourage anyone who has had a bad experience in relation to poor hygiene or food safety standards to report the matter to us so that the issue can be investigated directly,” she added.