Ireland has seen an increased number of illegal food businesses operating during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI).
The authority carried out investigations into 47 unregistered food businesses in 2020, compared to 19 in 2019.
These businesses were operating illegally without the knowledge or supervision of authorities, with inadequate food safety processes, procedures and facilities in place.
The FSAI said some unregistered businesses were established in domestic kitchens or private dwellings as a result of the temporary closure of food business where the people were previously employed due to Covid-19 restrictions.
In 2020, five closure orders, five compliance notices and three prohibition orders were served on unregistered food businesses. Two warrants were also obtained to access to unregistered food businesses operating from a domestic dwelling.
Foods produced or distributed by these businesses included baked goods, eggs, ready-to-eat sushi products, poultry, and both raw and cooked meats.
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The FSAI said its investigations resulted in 17 tonnes of unfit or unsafe food being taken off the market in Ireland.
“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,” chief executive of the FSAI, Dr Pamela Byrne said.
“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. It is totally unacceptable that some food businesses are choosing to operate outside of the law.”
Dr Byrne said many of the unregistered food businesses were using social media platforms to advertise the sale and supply of their products, with WhatsApp also used by some to receive orders.
“The FSAI and the food inspectors continue to monitor these sites and will take appropriate action, if unregistered food businesses are discovered,” she said.
The FSAI said anyone planning to open a food business should contact the FSAI for advice as to the correct procedures they must put in place to comply with food law and operate safely.
The authority has also advised consumers in any doubt about a food business to contact it through its online complaint form.