Food Complaints

No matter how good a manufacturer, or supplier of food is, there will be occasions when something goes wrong and the food sold is not acceptable to the customer.

The Food Safety Team receives many complaints relating to food each year. Foreign objects in food are one type of complaint, however not all pose a health risk.

How to make a food complaint

The Environmental Health Food Safety Team will deal with complaints about food bought within the borough of Surrey Heath that pose a public health risk. The Department will not get involved in any compensation claims. Compensation claims are a civil matter that you must take up with the manufacturer and, if necessary, through the courts.

The Food Safety team will deal with:

  • Food that is not safe to eat or actually makes you ill

  • Food that is so contaminated that it could not reasonably be eaten (such as a mouldy pie)

  • Food that contains a foreign object (such as a fragment of glass in a loaf of bread)

  • Chemical contamination of food and improper use of additives

  • Composition of food (such as sausages containing less than the minimum percentage of meat)

  • Adulteration of foods

  • Labelling offences and misleading claims

  • Quality and nature of food (such as pollock being sold as cod)

In order for the Food Safety Team to take formal action there will have to be:

  • A public health risk

  • A good chain of evidence (such as details of where the food was bought, any relevant packaging)

  • Evidence that the company concerned has not taken all reasonable steps to prevent the problem

Any formal action must also comply with the Council's Enforcement Policy. It may take several weeks for the Investigation Officer to collect all information necessary for deciding what action is appropriate. Once determined this may result in informal advice to avoid a recurrence or formal action against the company.

Complaints to a shop, manufacturer or supplier

For relatively minor problems it is best to complain directly to the company that sold you the food. Instances where it is appropriate to contact the shop or supplier directly include:

  • If you are not fully satisfied with the product and you just want your money back (most large supermarket chains have an efficient quality control and complaints procedure to enable customers to return an unsatisfactory food complaint and obtain a refund - supermarkets log these complaints and refer them to their suppliers, who can then identify trends, resulting in remedial action

  • If the complaint is not of a serious nature (such as a part of a pea pod in a can of peas, or a 'flat' carbonated drink)

Typical Food Complaints

The following are typical food complaints, with a short explanation and suggestions for the most suitable course of action:

TINNED FOODS

Field Insects:
Insects that live naturally in fields may be harvested along with the fruit and vegetables. Whilst food companies take steps to remove these insects, some will slip through the net. These insects and grubs are killed and sterilised by the canning process. As the use of pesticides decreases, the incidence of these pests will increase.
No public health risk. Action: contact retailer.

Wasps and Fruit Flies:
These are common in tins of fruit. They are naturally associated with ripe fruit and do not carry disease.
No public health risk. Action: contact retailer.

Mould:
Dented, damaged or incorrectly processed tins may allow mould growth to occur. This could indicate an error in production or storage.
Possible public health risk. Action: contact Environmental Health and Trading Standards.

FISH

Codworm:
White fish such as cod or haddock may be infested with a small, round brownish yellow worm. These are found in the flesh. They are killed by the cooking process and are harmless to humans. The infected parts of the fish are usually cut away, but some may be overlooked.
No public health risk. Action: contact retailer.

Glass-like Crystals:
Certain naturally occurring elements commonly found in fish may develop into hard crystals during the canning processing. These crystals may be mistaken for glass fragments and are called struvite. They are not harmful and will be broken down by stomach acids if swallowed. It is especially common in tinned salmon. Struvite crystals will dissolve if placed in vinegar and gently heated - glass will not.
No public health risk. Action: contact retailer if struvite, if glass contact Environmental Health and Trading Standards.

VEGETABLES AND FRUIT

Stones, Soil and Slugs:
Fruit and vegetables commonly have soil, stones or small slugs attached to them. This is quite normal as they originate in the soil.
No public health risk. Action: wash fruit and vegetables thoroughly.

Greenfly:
Salad vegetables, especially lettuce, may have greenfly attached. This is becoming increasingly common as the use of pesticides decreases. Greenfly can be difficult to wash off but they are not harmful. In fact they demonstrate that the salad is fresh.
No public health risk. Action: no action required.

Mould:
Mould growth will naturally occur when fruit and vegetables become damaged and bruised, or if stored for too long. We recommend that you check produce carefully before purchasing.
No public health risk. Action: dispose of mouldy produce.

CHOCOLATE OR CONFECTIONERY

Bloom:
Chocolate may develop a light coloured bloom if stored at too high a temperature. It is not mould but is due to fat separation. It is not harmful.
No public health risk. Action: contact retailer.

Crystals:
Large crystals may form in confectionery and may be mistaken for glass. The crystal will dissolve in warm water.
No public health risk. Action: contact retailer.

BAKERY GOODS

Bakery Char:
Bread and cakes may contain bits of over-cooked dough which has flaked off bakery tins. It is not necessarily an indicator of poor hygiene. However it is sometimes mistaken for rodent droppings.
No public health risk. Action: if bakery char contact retailer. If you think it may be rodent droppings contact Environmental Health and Trading Standards.

Carbonised Grease:
The machinery used to produce bread and cakes is lubricated with a non-toxic vegetable oil. Occasionally some may become incorporated into dough giving areas of the product a grey or greasy appearance.
No public health risk. Action: contact retailer.

DRIED FOODS

Insects:
Insects like beetles and weevils may infest dried products such as flour, sugar and pulses if these foods are stored for too long. These do not carry disease, but they breed very quickly in warm, humid conditions, and so spread into uncontaminated food very quickly.
No public health risk. Action: do not use an insecticide because of the danger of contaminating your food. Dispose of all visibly infested packages in an outside waste bin and thoroughly clean your food cupboards using a vacuum cleaner, paying particular attention to crevices. Immediately after use, dispose of the vacuum cleaner contents in an outside waste bin. Store new dried goods in airtight containers and ensure good ventilation in storage areas.

MEAT

Skin, Bone etc:
Products made from meat and/or poultry may contain small bones, skin, hair, bristles or parts of blood vessels. These are unsightly but rarely a health hazard, as they are normal parts of the original animal.
No public health risk. Action: contact retailer.

Do's & Don'ts when making a complaint

Do

  • Do keep receipts (not essential but helpful)

  • Do obtain the exact name and address where the food was purchased

  • Do keep the food in the wrapper and container

  • Do keep perishable food in the refrigerator (especially if your complaint involves decomposition or 'off' smells and tastes

  • Do read the label for 'best before' and 'use by' dates, and instructions for use (if you use food that is out of date, or not in accordance with the instructions you can expect problems)

Don't

  • Don't be tempted to handle or pull out any foreign object found in the food - leave it in place

  • Don't put the food in a place where further deterioration or contamination could take place (keep it in the fridge, but separate from other foods)

  • Don't throw away any of the food or packaging