The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) was established as a statutory body by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland Act, 1998. Its mission is "to protect consumers' health by ensuring that food consumed, distributed, marketed or produced in Ireland meets the highest standards of food safety and hygiene". It is the main co-ordinating body for food safety, co-ordinating the food safety activities of a range of bodies including the Health Service Executive (HSE), local authorities and Government departments.
The Authority promotes, encourages and fosters high standards of safety and hygiene at all stages of the food chain from primary production to final use by the customer ("from farm to fork"). Its promotion and inspection activities are aimed at bringing about an acceptance that primary responsibility for the safety of food rests with producers, manufacturers, distributors, retailers and caterers. The Authority must consult with consumers as well as people in all aspects of the food business in order to promote high standards.
The board of the Authority is appointed by the Minister for Health. It has overall responsibility for ensuring that the proper food safety systems are in place.
The authority has established a broadly based and representative Food Safety Consultative Council. The Minister for Health; the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine; the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; the Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government and the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and the board of the Authority nominate the membership of this council. While the Authority must have regard to the council's views, it is not be bound by these views in arriving at its decisions.
The scientific committee is appointed by the Minister for Health in consultation with the board. The Minister, in appointing members, must have regard to relevant scientific qualifications and experience to ensure the broadest possible range of expertise.
The scientific committee advises on matters referred to it by the board relating to scientific or technical questions, food inspection and nutrition. In order to guarantee the science-based nature of the Authority, the board gets the scientific committee's response before deciding any matter referred but is not bound by it.
All board members, scientific committee members, consultants and senior staff are obliged to make a declaration of interests to try to ensure that there is no conflict of interest.
The main activities of the FSAI are:
The FSAI may exercise its authority directly or by service contracts with 47 other agencies. It has entered into service contracts with the local authorities; the Health Service Executive (HSE); the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine; the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission.
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. If contracts are not satisfactorily performed, the Authority reports to the Minister for Health who will arrange for such reports to be laid before the Oireachtas.
The Authority is obliged to keep the food inspection activities under review and must report, at least annually, to the relevant Minister or agency on the scope for better co-ordination and delivery of the food inspection services.
The FSAI has a Memorandum of Understanding with the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland to co-operate in the monitoring of radioactivity levels in food.
The Authority has the power to carry out the following in order to determine compliance with food legislation:
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 notices", 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.
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.
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.
If you have a question relating to this topic you can contact the Citizens Information Phone Service on 0761 07 4000 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm) or you can visit your local Citizens Information Centre.