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Discovering a foreign object is not pleasant. However, not all foreign bodies pose a risk to public health. Below is a list of common food complaints often received by Environmental Health.

Make a food complaint or complaint regarding food premises in the Borough


There are certain natural constituents of some seafood’s (notably salmon, tuna, mackerel, shrimp etc.), which during the canning process, can result in the formation of magnesium ammonium phosphate. Very occasionally, this chemical can form crystals, which can grow to a size large enough to attract attention from the user of canned seafood. The crystals at first appearance resemble glass. Naturally consumers who are unfamiliar with this phenomenon may be alarmed and assume that careless factory discipline or sabotage is to blame.

Struvite crystals are not harmful and will dissolve in vinegar if gently heated for 15-20 minutes. If the object was glass it would not dissolve. If you discover the object to be glass then you should contact The Food Team.


Often complaints are received about foods that have mould present as a result of damaged, dented, torn packaging. This may indicate an error in the production process, the way the product is stored or the way the product was handled. You should contact Enviromental Health for further advice.

Fish – Codworm

Consumers sometimes find in white fish (cod and haddock) a small brown worm in the flesh. These worms are killed in the cooking process and are harmless. During processing of the fish normally any affected fish are removed but occasionally they are missed. If you find a worm you should return it to the supplier/manufacturer.

Bakery Goods – Char

Bread and cakes may contain bits of overcooked dough which has flaked off the baking tin. Consumers often relate these to being mouse droppings because of their size, colour and shape. The presence of Char does not necessarily indicate poor hygiene within the premises. If you find Char in a product you should contact the manufacturer.


Making Complaints about Food

The food safety team will investigate complaints concerning food products sold within the Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council Area. Complaints usually fall into 3 categories:


1. Foods Causing Illness
If you are a resident of the Borough we can investigate allegations of food poisoning. If you live outside the borough you should contact the local authority in which you live to report your illness.


2. Foreign Objects in Food
A foreign object can be anything that has found it’s way into foods that shouldn’t be there, such as glass, insects and plastic.


3. Labelling
Complaints are often received about food sold ‘out of date’. There are two types of date codes on pre-packed foods. A Best Before date is the date up to when the food will be in its best condition, it is not illegal to sell a food item beyond a best before date. (Although this is not a practice encouraged). A Use By date is found on highly perishable foods and is the date up to which the food can safely be consumed. It is illegal for a business to sell a food item beyond a Use By date.

You can make a complaint online or bring it to the Council Offices at Mossley Mill or Antrim Civic Centre, Mon-Fri 9:00am -5:00pm. An officer will take the complaint from you and advise you of the complaint procedure.

Foods purchased outside of Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council Area
If your complaint is regarding a food item purchased outside the borough you should take it to that local authority for investigation.

Investigation Procedure

Our procedures require the officer to contact the following:

  1. The premises where you bought the food, or their head office. 

  2. The manufacturer or importer of the food. 

  3. The local authority in which that manufacturer or importer is based. 

Information will be requested from such parties especially concerning any precautions that they may be taking to prevent such food complaints from occurring. If necessary, the food may be sent to a laboratory for analysis. It may be necessary during this analysis to conduct tests, which will result in the destruction of the food. You may be asked to provide a written statement detailing where you purchased the food and the circumstances surrounding the discovery of the complaint.

Enforcement Options

At the end of an investigation there are a range of options open to the council ranging from taking no action at all to prosecuting the person or company at fault.
This decision will depend on a number of factors including:

  • The nature of the complaint. 

  • Whether there have been other similar complaints. 

  • The measures already in place to try and prevent such a complaint occurring.  

  • What is going to be done to prevent it happening again. 

What we can’t do - Seek compensation

The primary purpose of investigating food complaints is to safeguard public health. We cannot get refunds or seek compensation for any damages you may have suffered as a result of purchasing the food. If you wish to seek compensation you should retain the food and seek legal advice.

How long will the investigation take?

Investigations often take several weeks or months to complete, because of the delays caused by waiting for reports from companies, local authorities and laboratories.

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