Contaminated food complaints

The Environmental Health Service receives many complaints relating to food each year. Foreign objects in food are a common complaint but not all pose a health risk. The following are typical food complaints together with a short explanation and suggestions for the most suitable course of action.

Bakery Char

Bread and cakes may contain bits of overcooked dough which has flaked off bakery tins. It is not necessarily an indicator of poor hygiene, although they maybe mistaken for rodent droppings. These are black and a regular torpedo shape, while bakery char is greyish and comes in uneven shapes.

  • no public health risk - contact manufacturer/retailer

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.

  • no public health risk - contact manufacturer


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 - return to retailer


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


Dried products such as flour, sugar and pulses may contain small insects such as psocids (book lice). These do not carry disease, but they eat through the paper of the packet. They breed very quickly in warm dark, humid conditions, and so spread into uncontaminated food very quickly.
  • no public health risk - throw out all affected food, clean cupboards with bleach, solution and dry thoroughly. Store new dried goods in airtight containers, ensure good ventilation in kitchen

Occasionally small grubs may be discovered in canned vegetables. These are commonly found in sweetcorn and tomatoes. The grubs are in fact the larvae of a moth. They live inside the kernel/tomato and so are impossible to see before processing. They 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 - contact manufacturer

Wasps & 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 - contact manufacturer


Certain naturally occuring elements in fish may develop into hard crystals during the canning process. These crystals may be mistaken for glass fragments and are called struvite. It is not harmful and will be broken down by stomach acids if swallowed. It is especially common in tinned salmon. Struvite crystals will be dissolved if placed in vinegar and gently heated glass will not.

  • no public health risk - contact manufacturer if struvite, Environmental Health if glass


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 - contact Environmental Health

Note: Mould growth will naturally occur when fruit and vegetables become damaged and bruised. This will be minimised if the buyer checks the produce before purchase.

Luminous marine bacteria

Luminous marine bacteria: Luminous bacteria can sometimes be found on seafood. Crabmeat, cooked shrimp and simulated seafood products made from surimi are the most common seafood associated with luminescence or glowing. When seafood glows it means that luminous bacteria are present. This suggests that the seafood was held for a time at a temperature that bacteria could grow. 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.

  • No public health risk - return to retailer/manifacturer


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 cooking and are harmless to humans. The affected parts of the fish are usually cut away, but some may be overlooked.

  • No public health risk - contact manufacturer

Skin, bone, etc

Products made from meat and/or poultry may contain small bones or skin 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 - contact manufacturer

Stones, soil & slugs

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

  • no public health risk - wash fruit and veg thoroughly


Salad vegetables may have green fly attached, especially lettuce. This is becoming increasingly common as the use of pesticides decreases. Greenfly are difficult to wash off and they are not harmful. In fact they demonstrate that the salad is fresh.

  • no public health risk - no action required

Further Information

For further information for cases which the food safety team may want to investigate please look at the Food Complaints page for details of what to do.

The time taken to investigate a food complaint can vary because manufacturers often have to be contacted and be given the opportunity to provide an explanation as to how the problem occurred.

We often contact the Local Authority in whose area the manufacturer is situated and ask the local Environmental Health Officer to provide us with information about the manufacturer.

Sometimes we ask a representative of the manufacturer to visit this office but if the problem has arisen because of poor temperature control, storage or handling in a premises in Brighton or Hove, a visit to that premises will be made as part of the investigation.

Although these consultations can be lengthy the investigation of your complaint will commence within 24 hours of receipt of the article.

You will be kept informed of progress at least once during every 28 day period.

When the investigation is completed you will be informed of the outcome in writing. However, should you require any information about your complaint at any time please do not hesitate to contact this department.

For more information, please do call the Manufacturer of the purchased product or contact The Food Safety Team on (01273) 292161