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Common Food Complaints

Discovering a foreign object in food or other problems with food can be a very unpleasant experience. However, not all pose a serious health risk. Below are some common food complaints together with a short explanation and suggestions for the best course of action.

The information provided in this document is intended as a self-help guide for residents and local businesses to help you to solve common issues that occur routinely in items of food. The aim of this guide is to save time so that our food safety officers can concentrate on more serious issues that pose a potential risk to public health.

If you are unable to resolve the problem that you have by reading our self-help guide then you can report your food issue online. You can complain about the food you have purchased, hygiene standards in a food premises and food poisoning. We will only deal with complaints where there is a potential public health risk.

We can only investigate complaints about hygiene standards in food businesses and food purchased from businesses that are based in the borough of Ashford.

Index

This page provides a brief summary of some of the problems that consumers may find associated with the food that they buy. Please use the links below to take you to the relevant part of the page:

Canned foods

Field insects, wasps and fruit flies

Stones in canned peas

Larvae in canned vegetables

White spots in tinned grapefruit

Mould

Glass-like crystals in canned fish (Struvite)

Fish

Glowing fish

Cod worm

Fish bones

Sea lice

Vegetables and fruit

Stones, soil and slugs

Greenfly

Mould

Spiders in bananas

Mushroom fibres

Cardamom pods in pilau rice

Insects in jam

Larvae in frozen vegetables

Mould in juice and food carton

Chocolate/Confectionery 

Bloom

Crystals

Dried foods

Insects

Psocids – small insects in flour

Bakery goods

Bakery char

Carbonised grease

Meat

Skin, bone or other animal material

Chicken

Red leg

Oregon disease or deep pectoral myopathy

Cooked and cured meat and poultry

Ham

Wine

Crystals

Corked wine

Durability dates

'Use by date'

'Minimum durability' date (previously known as 'best before')

Other dates

Labelling and allergen labelling requirements 

Canned foods

Field insects, wasps and fruit flies

Insects that live naturally in field may be harvested along with 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. There is no public health risk.

Action: Although it is unpleasant to find insects in your food there is no public health risk. You should contact the manufacturer.

Stones in canned peas

During harvesting, sometimes small stones can be accidentally collected too. Stones of certain size, weight and appearance can be missed during the sorting process. As long as the manufacturer can show that all reasonable precautions were taken to try to stop this from happening, it is accepted that a number of these complaints will occur.

Action: There is no public health risk. You should contact the manufacturer. If you have damaged a tooth or cut your mouth as a result of stones in food we cannot act on your behalf in these matters. You should contact the manufacturer and also seek legal advice from a solicitor if necessary.

Larvae in canned vegetables

Small grubs are often found in canned vegetables, particularly tomatoes and sweetcorn. Their colour is often cream to greenish brown with long dark and pale bands, but this is variable. They can be up to 4cm in length. People think they may be maggots or caterpillars. These are moth larvae that live inside the food, and are difficult to see during growing and processing. The larvae are killed and sterilised by the canning process so they are not a health risk. Every effort is made to control these pests while crops are growing. But you may find these larvae in food as the use of pesticides in food crops has decreased and there is an increase in the use of organic produce, where crops are not sprayed with any chemicals. There is no public health risk.

Action: Although unpleasant to find a grub in your food, there is no public health risk. You should contact the manufacturer.

White spots in tinned grapefruit

Sometimes, tinned grapefruit will be covered in white specks that look like mould. Also, the liquid in the tin may be cloudy. This is actually a natural constituent of the grapefruit called "Naringin" and it gives the fruit its distinctive bitter taste. Variations in the weather cause an increase in the amount of Naringin the fruit contains and when canned, this excess Naringin crystallizes out. The product is safe to eat and there is no health risk.

Action: You should contact the manufacturer, there is no public health risk.

Mould

Dented, damaged or incorrectly processed cans may allow mould growth to occur. This could indicate an error in production and poor handling during storage or distribution. It is difficult to establish who is responsible for this type of damage to canned foods. Affected foods should not be consumed.

Action: This may be unsightly but there is very little we can do with this type of complaint. It is best to return the affected food to the retailer or manufacturer. There is no public health risk.

Glass-like crystals in canned fish (Struvite)

Certain naturally occurring elements commonly found in fish may develop into hard crystals during the canning process. They are a harmless compound of magnesium ammonium phosphate. It is especially common in canned salmon. These crystals may be mistaken for glass fragments and are called Struvite. They are not harmful and will be broken down by stomach acids when swallowed.

You can tell the difference between Struvite and glass by doing simple tests at home; Struvite crystals are softer than glass and can be scratched or crushed between two hard surfaces into a powder.

If you look under a magnifying glass the edges are smoother where broken glass will be irregular.

Struvite crystals are soluble in a hot dilution of vinegar or lemon juice and water when gently heated for up to 15-20 minutes (the crystals will not dissolve completely in this time but will reduce in size). Glass will not dissolve. Finding Struvite is actually quite rare, despite the large volumes of fish produced each year. As yet, no procedure has been successful in preventing it happening, even the addition of polyphosphates is not 100% effective and most people do not want any more additives in food.

Action: You should heat gently in vinegar or lemon juice and water for 15-20 minutes. If the crystal does not dissolve or crush, then it could be glass, please contact us for advice. If the crystal dissolves it is Struvite but there is no public health risk. We would advise you to eat the product as normal, but if you are still concerned, please contact the manufacturer.

Fish

Glowing fish

Luminous bacteria can sometime be found on seafood. Crabmeat, cooked shrimps, prawns or processed seafood products made from Surimi. These are the most common seafood associated with luminescence or glowing. This suggests that the seafood was held for a time at a temperature that allowed the bacteria to grow. When seafood glows it means that luminous bacteria are present. The light is produced by a reaction which makes fireflies glow. It does not mean the seafood is unsafe or of low quality. There are no reports of illness from luminous marine bacteria growing on seafood and they are not radioactive.

Action: You should contact the retailer or manufacturer. There is no public health risk.

Cod worm

White fish such as cod or haddock may be infested with small, round brownish-yellow worms found in the flesh. These worms, known scientifically as Phocanema decipiens.

There is no evidence that anyone has ever had an illness associated with the cod worm. The worms are killed by the cooking and freezing process and are harmless. The affected parts of the fish are usually cut away but occasionally some may be missed in fresh fish and a worm may be discovered alive. This may be alarming to see but the worms are harmless if consumed. There is no public health risk. The incidence of infected fish is very small in relation to the thousands of tonnes of fish caught each year.

Action: You should contact the retailer or supplier. There is no public health risk.

Fish bones

Fish naturally contain bones. Whilst the manufacturers take every care to remove these bones, in products such as fish fingers and other processed fish products, a few may remain due to the way that the products are manufactured. Bones from a certain part of the fish may resemble a piece of plastic, being broad, flat and flexible in appearance. As long as the manufacturer has taken all reasonable steps to remove the bones, then we cannot take formal action.

Action: You should contact the retailer, supplier or manufacturer. There is no public health risk.

Sea lice

Sea lice refers to several species of parasitic copepods that are commonly found on fish in the marine environment. They have been found in salmon, stickleback, herring and rainbow trout. The lice usually fall off or are cleaned off during harvesting or processing.

Action: Sea lice do not affect human health. There is no public health risk.

Vegetables and Fruit

Stones, soil and slugs

Fruit and vegetables commonly have soil, stones or small slugs and snails adhering to them. This is quite normal as they originate in the soil.

Action: You should wash all fruit and vegetables thoroughly before eating them. There is no public health risk.

Greenfly

Salad vegetables (especially lettuce) may have greenfly attached. Greenfly are not harmful and can be difficult to wash off salad vegetables. They are becoming more common as the use of pesticides decreases. 

Action: Wash all salad items thoroughly. There is no public health risk.

Mould

Mould growth will naturally occur when fruit and vegetables become damaged and bruised, or if stored for too long. Do not consume mouldy fruit or vegetables.

Action: We recommend that you check the produce before purchase and handle it carefully after purchase. Contact the retailer if you need to make a complaint. There is no public health risk.

Spiders in bananas

Sometimes, spiders can come to Britain in fruit, vegetables and other products. The Huntsman or Giant Crab spiders are large, brown, crab-like spiders that have flattened bodies that enable them to fit into very small crevices. This spider lives in tropical and subtropical regions and is common in houses where they eat cockroaches and other insects, but not in Europe where it is too cold. They are transported throughout the world in banana shipments. They are harmless but a large one can deliver a painful bite if carelessly handled.

Action: In the unlikely event that you are bitten, contact a doctor.

Mushroom fibres

Sometime we get complaints about hairs in food such as pizza. Often these 'hairs' turn out to be mushroom fibres. The mushroom that we know is actually the fruiting body of the hidden mushroom plant. This plant is made up of microscopic filaments (hyphae) which combine to form strands called mycelium. The mycelium grows in the soil on wood and leaves, or in commercial mushroom farming, on compost. The mushroom body first develops as a tiny ball on the mycelium and grows to a certain size before being picked to eat. Sometimes, strands of mycelium can remain with the mushroom during preparation and cooking. When cooked, the fibrous mycelium can look like a coarse hair.

Action: Contact the retailer or manufacturer. There is no public health risk.

Cardamom pods in pilau rice

Cardamom pods are sometimes mistaken by members of the public as rodent droppings or insects. Cardamom is the common name for certain plant species native to India and south-eastern Asia. The fruit (pod) is a small capsule with eight to 16 brown seeds. The seeds are used as a spice or the pods can be used whole in pilau rice.

Action: There is no public health risk. Cardamom pods can be either removed or eaten.

Insects in jam

There are usually wasps or fruit flies. These insects are naturally associated with fruit and fruit growing areas. As they are small and light, some will inevitably get past the inspection process. They do not carry disease.

Action: We recommend that you check the produce before purchase or return to the retailer. There is no public health risk.

Larvae in frozen vegetables

The same information for larvae in canned foods applies to frozen foods, these are not harmful.

Action: Although it is unpleasant to find insects in your food there is no public health risk. You should contact the manufacturer.

Mould in juice and food cartons

  1. Cardboard juice and food cartons may become dented and damaged if poorly handled during storage and distribution. This damage can cause small holes to occur in the seams of the carton, which allow air to enter the carton causing mould to grow in the food or juice inside the carton. The holes are difficult to detect and it is only upon opening the carton that the mould is discovered. It is difficult to establish who is responsible for this type of damage to cardboard juice or food cartons. Affected foods should not be consumed.

    Action: Contact the manufacturer or retailer. There is no public health risk.

  2. There may also be other causes of mould growth – please check the following information first:  
    • What is the use by date on the product time?
    • What is the storage time after opening the product?
    • Has the product been stored correctly after opening?
    • Please read the manufacturer's instructions on the product packaging.
    • It is possible that mould will grow if a product is out of date or has been stored for too long at the wrong temperature (this may not be the fault of the manufacturer or retailer).
    • Affected foods should not be consumed.

      Action: Contact the manufacturer or retailer. There is no public health risk.
  3. If the juice carton has no physical signs of damage to the outside of the carton and is not out of date and has been stored at the correct temperature after opening then evidence of mould in the juice or food may be a result of poor food hygiene during production. This may warrant a formal investigation. Affected foods should not be consumed.

    Action: If you have followed the guidance in points one and two and you think that point three applies to the product you have please contact the food safety team via our website, as there may be a public health risk.

Chocolate/Confectionery

Bloom

Chocolate may develop a light coloured bloom if stored at too high a temperature. It is not mould but due to fat separation and is not harmful.

Action: You should return the product to the retailer or manufacturer. There is no public health risk.

Crystals

Large crystals may form in confectionery and may be mistaken for glass. The crystals will dissolve in warm water.

Action: You should test with warm water and if the crystals dissolve then there is no public health risk. Please return the product to the retailer or manufacturer. If the crystals do not dissolve, there is a public health risk if they are glass so you should contact the food safety team via our website.

Dried foods

Insects

Insects like beetles and weevils may infest dried products such as flour, sugar, milk powder, semolina and pulses if they are stored for too long. These insects do not carry disease, but they breed very quickly in warm, humid conditions and spread into uncontaminated food very quickly.

Action: Do not use an insecticide because of the danger of contaminating your food, but dispose of all visibly infested packages in an outside waste bin. Thoroughly clean the cupboards using a vacuum cleaner paying particular attention to crevices, and immediately afterwards, empty the vacuum cleaner into an outside waste bin. Store new dried goods in airtight containers and ensure good ventilation in storage areas.

Psocids – small insects in flour

Psocids are very, very small grey or brown insects which are only very occasionally found in dry foods like flour, milk powder, sugar and semolina and because of this you may see them in your kitchen cupboards too. They are harmless insects about 1-2mm long, which can survive in dry powdery foods. They are not a sign of poor hygiene. They prefer dark, warm, humid places and can be found in the folds of food packaging in kitchen cupboards. They eat a wide variety of dried food products such as flour, cereals and the microscopic moulds that develop in humid conditions. They live for about six months, during which time they can lay up to 100 eggs. They breed very quickly and so spread into uncontaminated food very quickly.

Action: 

  • All affected food should be removed and thrown away in a bin outside.
  • Check all remaining food, including the labels, and throw away as necessary.
  • Thoroughly clean the cupboard using a damp cloth with a mild sterilising solution (following the instructions on the bottle and avoid using bleach and disinfectant solutions as they may taint food).
  • Dry the cupboard thoroughly before food is returned to the cupboard. Use a hairdryer if necessary.
  • New dried foods should be stored in airtight containers.
  • Keep the kitchen and food storage cupboards well ventilated and dry.
  • There is no public health risk.

If you have only just purchased the product from a shop and you believe the problem came from there, please contact the food safety team via our website.

Bakery goods

Bakery char

Bread and cakes may contain irregularly shaped bits of overcooked dough which has flaked off bakery tins. Occasionally some flakes or drops may become incorporated with the dough and are mistaken for rodent dropping which are black and torpedo shaped, whilst bakery char is greyish and uneven in shape.

Action: This is not a public health risk and you should contact the manufacturer/retailer to discuss.

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/greasy appearance and you may suspect there is dirt or oil in the food.

Action: You should contact the manufacturer/retailer as this is not a public health risk.

Meat

Skin, bone or other animal material

Products made from meat and/or poultry may contain small bones, skin, or parts of blood vessels. These are unsightly but rarely a health hazard as they are normal parts of the original animal.

Action: You should contact the manufacturer/retailer as this is not a public health risk. If you have damaged a tooth or cut your mouth on a small bone or a piece of animal tooth in food we cannot act on your behalf in these matters. You should contact the manufacturer and also seek legal advice from a solicitor if necessary.

Note: It is very rare for prohibited parts of an animal (e.g. genitals, eyes, eyelids, or non-food animals, such as cats or dogs). Meat such as chicken and lamb are readily available and relatively inexpensive. It is not economical for businesses to make use of prohibited parts of food animals or non-food species.

Chicken

Red leg

A natural pigment held within the bone being released after cooking and taking on the appearance of meat not being correctly cooked causes red leg in cooked chicken. The chicken will be thoroughly cooked but the temperature is not high enough to denature the pigment.

Action: Ensure the chicken is thoroughly cooked and the juices are running clear. This is not a public health risk.

Oregon disease or deep pectoral myopathy

This is a condition of turkeys and chickens (broiler). It is caused by a reduction in blood supply to the deep pectoral muscles. The lesion is apple green, which is retained on cooking. The colour is not noticed until the bird is carved after cooking.

Action: It is unsightly but there is no public health risk. Contact the manufacturer/retailer.

Cooked and cured meat and poultry

Ham

If ham cooked in a Panini is discoloured after cooking there are three possible reasons for this:

  1. The "cure" (nitrate level) was not as high as it could have been; and/or
  2. The ripening flora of the cheese (if also in the Panini) can produce very small quantities of hydrogen peroxide, which when combined with the ham, can cause discolouration; and/or
  3. The ham is out of date.

Action: Points one and two are issues of quality, however, as the ham used could be out of date an investigation would be required. Please contact the food safety team via our website.

Wine

Crystals

Tartrate crystals, also known as "wine diamonds", are a natural product of the wine, and form when the wine gets too cold. Simply sift the crystals out of the wine. The crystals are not harmful in any way.

Action: If you believe it is not tartrate crystals in your wine, but glass contamination, please contact the food safety team via our website.

Corked wine

Cork is a natural product, which is an ideal closure for wine, but occasionally the cork could be diseased and affect the taste of the wine. This disease is not harmful and is called "Trichloroanisole" (TCA). It is extremely difficult to detect during manufacture and unfortunately also evades detection during the inspection procedures suppliers of the wine carry out before the wine is bottled. Unfortunately, TCA, which is found naturally in cork, can be detected by the human nose at just one part per million, so when it is present you know about it.

Action: You should contact the manufacturer/retailer as this is not a public health risk.

Durability dates

'Use by' date

'Use by' means exactly that. You should not use any food or drink after the end of the 'use by' date shown on the label. Even if it looks and smells fine, food should not be sold or used after this date as there is a public health risk. You will usually find a 'use by' date on food that goes off quickly, such as chilled, cooked and cured meats, milk, soft cheese, ready-prepared salads and smoked fish.

It's also important to follow any storage instructions given on food labels, otherwise the food might not last until the 'use by' date. Usually food with a 'use by' date needs to be kept in the fridge. 

Some food labels also give instructions such as 'eat within a week of opening'. It is important to follow these instructions. But remember, if the 'use by' date is tomorrow, then you must use the food by the end of tomorrow. Even if the label says 'eat within a week of opening' and you have only opened the food today. Make sure that the food is always stored in the fridge after it is opened.

'Display until' and 'sell by' dates are instructions for shop staff to tell them when they should take a product off the shelves.

It is an offence for food businesses to sell or use food that has passed its use by date.

Action: If you have a complaint about food being sold past its use by date then it is a public health risk. You should contact the food safety team via our website.

'Minimum durability' date (previously known as 'best before')

'Minimum durability' dates are usually used on foods that last longer, such as frozen, dried or canned foods. It should be safe to eat food after the 'minimum durability' date, but the food will no longer be at its best. After this date, the food might begin to lose its flavour and texture but there is no public health risk.

However, if you eat eggs after their 'minimum durability' date, you will need to make sure you cook both the yolk and the white thoroughly and they must be used within two days of their 'minimum durability' date.

It is not an offence for food businesses to sell food that has passed its minimum durability date. However, it is an offence if a food business sells or uses food past its best before date if the food is mouldy, affected by insects, beginning to spoil, or its condition is physically deteriorating and finally the food must meet the legal description of being not of the nature, substance or quality.

Action: If you have a complaint about food being not of the nature, substance or quality then this is a public health risk. You should contact the food safety team via our website.

Other dates

You may see 'sell by' or 'display until' on some packs. These are not legally required dates and are meant to be instructions for in-store staff. For fresh fruit and vegetables these may be the only dates shown, as they usually do not need a 'best before' date. On other foods it may be in addition to the 'use by' or 'best before' dates shown.

Labelling and allergen labelling requirements

The fundamental rule of the labelling of foodstuffs is that consumers should not be misled. Detailed labelling of a product educates consumers as to the exact nature and characteristics of the foodstuff and enables them to make a more informed choice.

Action: Further information about food labelling can be found on the Food Standards Agency website.

Allergen labelling: For information about the allergen labelling requirements please visit the Food Standards Agency website.

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