Making a food complaint

Did you know that it can take from as little as 20 minutes to several weeks to become unwell from food contaminated by pathogens – and your illness may not be caused by the last thing you ate.

Foodborne illness can be mild but sometimes (especially if you have low immunity), it can be life-threatening. Symptoms can range from mild stomach upset through to severe abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhoea – and worse.

If you think your illness was caused by food, you may wish to
seek advice from your doctor.

Reporting a foodborne illness

Some foodborne illnesses such as Campylobacter, Salmonella, Listeria or Hepatitis A are notifiable diseases. This means that if you’ve seen a doctor, they are legally required to report the illness to the Medical Officer of Health (MOH) at your local public health unit (PHU) so that local authorities can help prevent the spread of the disease and stop another happening in future. More.

Suspected foodborne illness

If you think you have a foodborne illness, report it directly to a Health Protection Officer at your local Public Health Unit and you may wish to also consult your family doctor if your symptoms persist, or are severe.

Symptoms of foodborne illnesses include:

  • vomiting
  • nausea
  • diarrhoea
  • stomach cramps
  • muscle pain
  • headache
  • fever.

To find out more about symptoms, possible causes, as well as the typical time-frames in which they can occur after eating contaminated food, please see our publication Meet the Bugs (FoodSmart website).

Premises hygiene complaint

If you want to report a 'dirty' food premises or unhygienic practices of food handlers, contact an Environmental Health Officer at your Local Council (External website).

Typical examples include:

  • vermin
  • poor personal hygiene of food handlers
  • visibly unclean premises
  • poor food handling and hand-hygiene (use of gloves is optional – see our fact sheet for more information) (FoodSmart website).

Breach of food for sale regulations

If you want to report an apparent breach in food for sale regulations, report this to MPI Food Safety by phone on 0800 693 721, or by email: info@mpi.govt.nz

Examples include:

  • foreign objects in food
  • misrepresentation or mislabelling
  • food unfit for human consumption
  • food being sold past its ‘Use-By’ date (See date-marking fact-sheet) (FoodSmart website).

Food allergies – undeclared allergens

If you suspect that there is an undeclared allergen in a food, contact MPI Food Safety on 0800 693 721, or by email: info@mpi.govt.nz or your local Public Health Unit.

Information on potential food allergens that must be declared on food labels or made available to you if you ask for it. See the FoodSmart website.

Food safety versus food quality

Food complaints sometimes turn out to be related to quality rather than safety. If a food's quality has been compromised, it may make it unpleasant to look at or taste, but if you were to eat it, the food wouldn't make you sick.

Struvite in tinned seafood

Complaints of 'glass' in tinned seafood most often result in the foreign object being reclassified as struvite crystals. This is a quality issue, rather than a safety issue.

Struvite is naturally occurring crystals of magnesium ammonium phosphate, which are colourless, transparent and tasteless. They can easily be mistaken for pieces of broken glass. However - unlike glass shards - they are harmless, soluble, naturally-occurring particles and they are likely to be dissolved by digestive acids if a person were to eat them.

If you come across something you believe to be glass, you can easily determine whether it is struvite by performing this simple test:

  • Place the glass-like objects in some heated household vinegar for 5-10 minutes.
  • Swirl the particles in the vinegar a little.
  • If the particles are struvite, they will dissolve fairly quickly.
  • Putting the vinegar on the stove to boil slightly might also aid the process.

Glass obviously will not dissolve. If the substance doesn't dissolve in the heated vinegar, it is likely that the object is something other than struvite.

We recommend that you report these instances to the store where they purchased the food, who will then take it up with the supplier/manufacturer. You can also choose to raise it directly with the manufacturer, who has a responsibility to manage food safety concerns that relate to their products.

If you are dissatisfied with the response from the retailer or manufacturer, you can report this to MPI by phoning 0800 693 721 or emailing info@mpi.govt.nz

Glass is considered a high food safety risk and will be prioritised and treated accordingly by our investigators, but please ensure you have tested the struvite theory first.