Food Safety Authority of Ireland
The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) was established as a statutory body by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland Act, 1998. Its main function is to ensure that food produced, distributed or marketed in Ireland meets the highest standards of food safety and hygiene reasonably available and to ensure that food complies with legal requirements and recognised codes of good practice.
Food legislation is enforced on behalf of the FSAI by a network of official agencies working under service contract to the FSAI.
Main activities of the FSAI
The main activities of the FSAI are:
- Co-ordinating food safety control programmes.
- Inspecting, approving, licensing and registering premises involved in food production and distribution at manufacturing, wholesale and retail levels.
- Auditing food safety activities in Ireland to ensure best practices are being observed.
- Linking up with the Health Protection Surveillance Centre, the Health Service Executive (HSE) and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to gather relevant data on human and animal infections. This is to identify the current public health priorities and emerging problems so that control measures can be targeted appropriately.
- Providing education and advice for all, from primary producers to consumers, on how to prevent foodborne illness.
- Linking with the Department of Health's Health Promotion Unit and existing bodies in the area, to provide advice on matters such as nutrition, food technology, industrial practices, the cultivation of food plants and animals, food labelling and packaging and on improving systems for the communication of information to the public on food safety and hygiene in the home.
The FSAI may exercise its authority directly or by service contracts with other agencies. It has entered into service contracts with: the local authorities; the HSE; the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine; The Marine Institute; The National Standards Authority of Ireland; and The Sea Fisheries Protection Authority.
Each service contract includes the targets and objectives that the Authority wishes the agency to meet and the timeframe within which these must be achieved. The Authority has published details of the contracts and has a system of monitoring to ensure the contracts are being adhered to.
The FSAI has a Memorandum of Understanding with Bord Iascaigh Mhara, Revenue’s Customs Service, and the Loughs Agency.
Enforcement of food safety standards
The Authority has the power to carry out the following in order to determine compliance with food legislation:
- The inspection, approval, licensing or registration of premises and equipment, including premises or equipment used in connection with the manufacture, processing, disposal, transport and storage of food
- The inspection, sampling, and analysis of food and food including food ingredients
- The inspection and analysis of food labelling
The FSAI carries out its enforcement role by means of service contracts with the official agencies.
In order to maintain full traceability, the Authority's remit includes farms, other places of primary production, water treatment plants and any other source of materials used in food production.
The authority has a wide ranging power to seek reports from any State body on a matter that, in its opinion, impinges on food safety and to report to the Minister for Health.
The Authority has authorised officers who have extensive powers to enter and inspect food premises, to secure these premises for later inspection, to inspect and, if necessary, remove records. These officers may take samples of food or related materials and have these samples analysed and it is an offence for any person to obstruct an officer in carrying out this duty.
The authorised officers are the staff of the various agencies involved in food safety, including Environmental Health Officers from the Health Service Executive (HSE).
Where an authorised officer is of the view that any premises or activity poses a threat to public health, he/she has the power to set out the action required to remedy the situation and set a time limit for its completion. The officer may serve an improvement notice, which is binding on the recipient. Improvement notices are used where there is clear need for some remedial action but where a complete shut-down of operations may not be warranted. Where an improvement notice is not complied with, the officer may seek an order from the District Court to force compliance – this is known as an improvement order.
In more serious cases, where the officer believes there is an immediate and grave threat to public health, a closure order may be made. This means that the operation must cease until the problem has been remedied.
In cases where unsafe products or product batches have been distributed by the producer and are on the market, authorised officers may insist on the withdrawal, recall, detention and supervised destruction of products posing a threat to public health – they issue prohibition orders in these cases.
Breaches of the food safety laws may be prosecuted by the FSAI or any of the agencies involved.
Promotion of food safety
The FSAI provides information and advice on a whole range of food safety issues, including foodborne diseases and risks and how to prevent food poisoning. Information is available from the address below or from the FSAI website. That site also has details of Alert Notifications and product recalls as well as Codes of Practice that have been agreed with various food producers. There are also guidance notes for retailers on the food safety laws and advice for consumers and the food industry.
Food safety assurance schemes
The Authority may, either on its own initiative or in co-operation with food producers' representatives, establish schemes to protect consumer interests. These food safety assurance schemes cover the promotion of best practice and preparation of guidelines on raw materials, processing, packaging, preparation, storage and handling.