Food safety helpline receives over 3,000 calls

Tue, Dec 9, 2008, 00:00

A helpline set up by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) in the wake of the recall of Irish pork products last Saturday has received an “unprecedented” number of calls from worried consumers and people in the pork industry.

The agency had no figures for the total number of people who called its helpline since the recall but it had responded to nearly 3,000 calls as of yesterday evening.

FSAI information manager Edel Conway said: “On Sunday alone the agency received over 2,000 calls and at one stage we had 30 staff manning telephones”.

Most calls were from consumers concerned about the possible health implications of the eating contaminated meat or being exposed to harmful dioxins, she said.

There were also a significant number of queries related to the issue of refunds on purchased products.

Many consumers and people in the industry also rang the helpline seeking advice on how best to recycle or dispose of pork products.

Ms Conway said disposing of meat at risk of contamination was not just an issue for producers as many consumers appeared to be unsure of what to do with pork products that could not be returned.

The FSAI also received calls from people anxious to know why the contamination occurred, how it was discovered and what steps had been taken by the relevant authorities.

A number of expectant mothers rang the agency seeking information on whether exposure to dioxins posed a risk to their unborn child.

There were also calls from mothers who wished to know whether they should continue breast feeding if they had consumed meat at risk of contamination.

A significant number of pork producers, who had not used contaminated feed, contacted the agency to seek information on how they could get the safety of their produce verified and back on the market.

Ms Conway said the agency received a number of calls yesterday from consumers concerned there may be a recall on beef products after news that tests on cattle indicated the presence of dioxins.

The FSAI helpline is on 1890 336677 and the agency has put answers to the most common queries and further information on its website, www.fsai.ie

The Department of Agriculture yesterday set up its own helpline on 1800 303052 .

A department spokesman said the helpline is intended to deal with queries from farmers and businesses about the disposal of pork products at risk of contamination and other issues arising from the recall.

He said the veterinary inspectors within the Department had been dealing with a large number of calls since the weekend and the helpline was set up to allow them return to their normal work.

Separately, Dublin City Council advised people who have a brown bin collection service not to deposit pork products or pork waste in their bins. The council said such products should be returned to retailers or, if this was not practicable, should be deposited in the black/grey bin for collection and safe disposal.

The National Consumer Agency said yesterday it had received 90 telephone queries in relation to the recall over the last three days, mainly from consumers wanting to know if they were legally entitled to a full refund on purchased products.