Food complaints and enforcement
Types of food complaint
There are 3 main areas of complaint:
- Foreign objects
- Foods causing illness
Foreign objects are things that have found their way into food that shouldn’t be there. Complaints that fall into this category range from insects to nuts and bolts coming off machinery during the food’s manufacture.
Foods causing illness
Beware... it is not always what you think!
We receive many complaints alleging that a certain food has caused illness. The food being blamed will almost always be the last thing the person ate before becoming ill. However, most food poisoning bacteria do not cause illness until 12 to 36 hours after they have entered the body. This means it will hardly ever be what you ate last that made you ill, but rather what you ate yesterday or even the day before.
We may ask you to send a stool specimen to the Noble's Hospital Pathology Department in order for us to try and find out what caused your illness. This will help us find out whether your illness was caused by food and if so, pinpoint exactly which food was to blame. By helping in this way you may prevent others being infected by the same bacteria. Firstly we can see to it that affected food is removed from sale. Secondly, once we know the nature of your illness, we can give you advice on how to stop it spreading to your friends and family.
Most pre-packed foods need to carry a date of minimum durability. Normally this is a Best Before date - the date before which the food should remain in its best condition, that is, it will not be stale.
Highly perishable foods should have a Use By date on the packaging, giving the date by which the food may be used safely. Foods that have Use By dates must be removed from sale once that date has passed.
Making a complaint
Below are details of the service you should receive from us when making a complaint about food:
If you make your complaint to the Food Safety Unit by telephone we will arrange a time for us to either collect the specimen if you are unable to bring it into the office, or for you to see an officer at Thie Slieau Whallian. This will normally be the same day or the next working day.
Contact the Food Safety Unit (see below) or see the district contacts on the What do we do?
If you wish to complain in writing, please remember to include a daytime telephone number so that we may contact you to arrange a time for us to either collect the specimen or for you to see an officer at Thie Slieau Whallian.
Please write to:
Department of Environment
Food and Agriculture
Thie Slieau Whallian
+44 1624 685894
What happens after you hand the food over to us?
You should be given:
- a complaint form to sign
- the name and contact number of the officer who will deal with your complaint, and
- an explanation of what will happen next and what to expect.
If you bring the food in to Thie Slieau Whallian without making an appointment it may not always be possible to see an officer straight away. In such cases the details will be taken by one of our administrative staff. You will then be advised as soon as possible, either by phone or in writing, of the officer dealing with your complaint.
Please remember, for us to deal with your complaint you must either live or have bought food in the Isle of Man.
What happens once we have the food?
Once we have the food, we will decide on the most appropriate course of action. There are often many people involved in supplying an item of food including retailers, wholesalers, importers, packaging companies and manufacturers.
In many cases we need to contact most, or even all, of these people during the course of an investigation, in order to try and establish exactly what went wrong and at what point in the food chain.
On other occasions the only way to find out what is wrong with the food is to have it analysed by a laboratory. An analyst's report can sometimes tell us if objects found in food have got in before or after manufacture. This is particularly important when trying to decide who is responsible for the complaint. Another very important part of some investigations is contacting the local authority in the UK that inspects the premises where the food has been made. They will give us details of how good the hygiene is at the factory, whether there have been similar complaints in the past and what procedures are in place to try to prevent things going wrong.
What enforcement options are available?
At the end of an investigation, there are a range of options open to the Directorate ranging from taking no action at all, to prosecuting the person or company at fault. The decision on which option is most appropriate will depend upon a number of factors including:
- the nature of the complaint
- whether there have been other similar complaints
- the measures the alleged offender already has in place to try to prevent such a complaint occurring, and
- what else they are going to do to try and prevent it happening again
The Food Safety Unit cannot obtain compensation on your behalf, or become involved with any claim for damages you may have suffered as a result of purchasing food. The Directorate deals exclusively with criminal law and is unable to pursue compensation claims of a civil nature. Our first priority is public health. The Food Safety Unit is able to pass your name and address details on to those responsible (with your permission). Often this will result in you receiving a letter of explanation or apology, and sometimes vouchers for replacement products.
It should also be noted that investigations often take several weeks because of necessary delays caused by waiting for reports from companies, other local authorities in the UK and/or analysts.