The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) has said there was a pattern of enquiries to its advice line, which corresponded with peaks in COVID-19 cases in 2020.
In 2020, there were three main surges in COVID-19 cases, with the final one extending into the first quarter of 2021.
Each time cases started to accelerate, Government discussions focused on lockdown restrictions, including business restrictions, social distancing measures and movement restrictions, it said.
“Generally, the FSAI advice line experienced a surge in enquiries that corresponded with food businesses and the public seeking advice on the impact of such restrictions on the food chain.
“However, as time progressed, the number of enquiries declined as everyone became familiar with lockdown protocols.
"There were also smaller surges in enquiries towards the end part of each wave and these tended to be driven by enquiries about food safety issues as retail businesses reopened,” the FSAI said.
Last year, the advice line received 720 enquiries relating to COVID-19 and the top five enquiries in descending order were complaints, food businesses looking for general COVID-19 advice, advice on use of face coverings and visors, operation of outdoor markets and safety of open food displays.
However, it said the total number of complaints dropped 20% in 2020 compared with 2019 from 3,460 to 2,772 respectively, influenced by the fact that many food businesses were closed during the three lockdowns, it said.
Surge in illegal food businesses
The FSAI also said there was a surge in illegal food businesses operating during COVID-19 in 2020.
In EU law, food businesses must be registered or approved by a competent authority before they can operate. However, the FSAI has said it became aware of a surge in food businesses set up in inappropriate premises during the pandemic.
“These illegal food businesses were often not hygienic and had little or no food safety systems in place. For example, in October 2020, closure orders were served on sushi businesses operating from the bedroom of a rented house in Santry, Dublin,” it said.
The number of these unregistered businesses uncovered by the FSAI and its official agencies rose by 147% from 19 in 2019 to 47 in 2020.