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The Irish agency responsible for seafood controls has revealed alleged illness from shellfish and detection of pathogens in products in its 2022 annual report.
The Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) is tasked with ensuring seafood safety for consumers up to retail and verifying seafood trade.
2022 was described as a challenging year for Ireland’s seafood sector with continuing repercussions from Brexit, the fallout from the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the impact of COVID-19 in export markets, and the energy and cost-of-living crises.
Sea-Fisheries Protection Officers (SFPOs) carried out 1,958 food safety official controls across 2,323 premises. This included inspections of approved establishments, sampling, vessel hygiene checks, and certification for a consignment of food exported to another country. A total of 1,249 samples were taken, the majority being food items.
Illness-related incidents
SFPA responded to 74 incidents relating to concerns about the safety or quality of food which required examination because of public health risks.
Twenty-three incidents were reports of alleged illness following consumption of live bivalve mollusks, particularly oysters. Six were due to detecting Listeria monocytogenes in fishery products, and five were suspected Norovirus in shellfish with no reports of illness.
SFPA dealt with 12 complaints in 2022. These ranged from a customer complaint because of the presence of multiple large bones in a salmon darne, a piece of metal in smoked salmon, and one regarding the use of an unauthorized biocidal product by a company.
Seafood safety enforcement ranged from informal advisory measures to serving compliance notices and opening criminal prosecutions for serious non-compliance. 
Two criminal prosecutions were started against food businesses for breaches of the regulations on hygiene, temperature controls, pest control, and traceability requirements. Sixteen compliance notices were issued in 2022.
Brexit and wider work
Brexit led to increased demands on SFPA. Exports of Irish seafood to international destinations outside the EU required the SFPA to process 3,670 health certificates for 78,171 tons of product. Also, 688 catch certificates were issued to export 10,800 tons of Irish seafood to countries, including the UK.
A confidential reporting portal received 73 contacts with one event relating to food safety.
The EU Expert Group on Food Hygiene and Control of Food of Animal Origin met three times in 2022 and discussed tuna fraud and control, intermediary operators in the shellfish supply chain, super chilling of fishery products, and amendments to EU regulation. The EU Live Bivalve Mollusk Working group met once, and topics included norovirus management.
SFPA is involved in protecting sea fisheries sustainability and safeguarding against illegal fishing.
During 2022, SFPOs undertook 1,903 fishing vessel inspections, which marked a 41 percent increase from 2021. 87 case files were opened due to 161 suspected sea-fisheries violations. This figure represents both food safety and seafood infringements.
Paschal Hayes, the SFPA executive chairperson, said: “2022 was a year of significant change within the SFPA with the appointment of a new authority and new senior management members across the organization. Protecting seafood safety is critical to the reputation of Ireland’s seafood offering both home and abroad and ultimately the health and wellbeing of consumers of Irish seafood products.”
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