We receive about 40 complaints a year concerning such things as
- 'extraneous matter' in food (including insects, metal, glass, hair etc.),
- mouldy food, food which is 'off', and
- food alleged to have caused illness.
Of course, some complaints are made directly to retailers and manufacturers with no involvement from Environmental Health staff, but the levels of complaint are still low when you think about the food sold and consumed in Torfaen. Information on some Common Food Complaints is available to download. .
Under the Food Safety Act 1990, it is an offence to sell food which is unfit for human consumption or is so contaminated that it would not be reasonable to expect it to be consumed in that state.
Most food businesses have set up procedures to ensure, as far as possible, that such problems do not occur. The Act recognises these arrangements as a defence (known as ´due diligence´) in the event that a local authority should decide to prosecute.
Investigation of Food Complaints
A Food Complaint Leaflet is available detailing the steps we will take in relation to food complaints.
Before we investigate your complaint, we will need:
- The food, along with any packaging and receipts that you may have.
- Full information about where and when the product was bought, and we will also need to know how you handled and stored the product, as the problem may have originated in your home.
Without the food or full information, we will not be able to carry out a full investigation or be able to take formal action such as prosecution. However, we will still be able to carry out a limited investigation, and will be happy to advise you on the action that we can take on your behalf.
If the complaint relates to quality or to food bought outside the Torfaen area, we can pass complaints on to other authorities as appropriate. We try to make sure that your complaint is investigated by the correct people, and advise you on how your complaint will be investigated.
Taking Action in Respect of Food Complaints
In order to investigate a complaint, we normally trace a complaint back to the factory where it was made, and look at how the food was produced, transported and sold. We also speak to other local authorities, to find out whether the places the food was made, stored etc meet all the legal requirements. This investigation can take some time, and it is generally a few weeks before we start to get the information we need so that we can decide on what action to take next.
Most complaints we investigate are isolated incidents and in these cases we try to resolve the complaint informally ; very few reveal a serious or recurring problem.
We can only prosecute where we have enough evidence to prove a case "beyond reasonable doubt" – and this means that we have to eliminate the possibility that the complaint arose in your home or elsewhere in the transport or retail chain and to be able to prove where the problem actually occurred. This is sometimes very difficult, and means that we cannot always identify where responsibility for the complaint actually lies and who we should therefore prosecute.
The Food Safety Act 1990 allows manufacturers a defence of "due diligence" where they have taken all reasonable and practicable precautions to prevent the problem from occurring. This recognises that food is a natural product, and that even the best manufacturer can not always get things 100% right. This does, however, mean that we may not be able to prosecute even where we can prove that a manufacturer or other business was at fault.
We always keep the details of the complaint confidential, and only release them at the end of an investigation where the complainant has agreed to this. However, we are required to release information about the complainant where we are taking legal action in respect of a complaint, and the complainant may have to give evidence in court. We may also release information on malicious complainants (see below).
Most retailers and manufacturers make an apology and refund the cost of the unsatisfactory purchase, and they may make some recognition of the inconvenience and loss of confidence in the product, although they are not legally required to do so.
The Food, Health and Safety team cannot undertake negotiations on a complainant's behalf in respect of recompense or compensation.
We occasionally receive complaints that are malicious, and where the complainant may be trying to get a business into trouble or to claim compensation they are not entitled to.
In these cases, we will seek legal advice and may release details of the complainant to the Police or to the business concerned.
Last Modified: 14/09/2022
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