Choudel doesn’t know if this is the first time her family have eaten gone-off meat in Mosney.
The mum of two says she bought chicken that was well past its expiry date from the shop in the Mosney Accommodation Centre last week. She didn’t realise.
She and her son suffered serious stomach upset after eating it, she said by phone Friday. “It is really not good, we cannot eat expired food with the kids; they are still really small,” she said.
Mosney management “refute the allegations made in the strongest possible terms”, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice said by email.
The shop in Mosney opened in January, allowing residents to buy products and cook their own meals. Before that, their only option was to eat meals prepared for them.
Choudel wonders whether these might have included out-of-date food. “If they are selling … food that is already expired, what were they cooking for us before?”
We tried calling the Mosney Accommodation Centre on a number on the HSE website, to ask them about Choudel’s concerns. That number rang out on five occasions.
Food businesses within direct-provision centres such as Mosney must be registered with and are inspected by environmental-health officers in the HSE on behalf of the Food Safety Authority (FSA), says Jane Ryder, communications manager at the FSA.
“It is illegal to sell food past its ‘use by’ date,” says Ryder. “It could cause food poisoning.”
People can complain to the FSA confidentially by filling out an online complaint form on their website, she says. Choudel says she has filed such a complaint with the FSA.
The HSE confirmed that they have received a complaint via the FSA in relation to the sale of food in Mosney. “The Environmental Health Service can confirm that it received a complaint on Friday 19th May 2017 … This complaint is being investigated,” said a spokesperson for the HSE.
Choudel says that she got three packages of chicken on Tuesday 16 May and cooked and ate one on 17 May.
She says she still has the other two, and that the photo (below) is of one of these: a package of chicken with a “use-by” date of 3 March 2017.
It may be that this chicken was frozen, then defrosted and sold on, as it was more than two months out of date.
“If chicken, or any other food, has been previously frozen, it must be clearly labelled that it has been previously frozen and there will be details instructing the consumer if it is safe to refreeze,” says Ryder of the FSA.
Regardless of whether it was previously frozen and defrosted or not, the chicken cannot be sold past its “use-by” date, she says.
Lucky Khambule, of the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland, says he has received many complaints from people living in Mosney who purchased items in the shop that were past their use-by date.
“Its dangerous, people don’t realise how serious this can be,” he says.
“Mosney management state that they adhere strictly to HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) regulations around food safety,” said a spokesperson for the Department of Justice by email.
The government’s contract with Mosney requires the centre to “ensure that a food safety management system incorporating the principles of Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points is in place, in keeping with the European Community (Hygiene of Foodstuff) Regulations”, he said.
All centres come under the inspection regime of the Environmental Health Officers (EHO), the spokesperson said. They check kitchens, serving areas, food traceability records and hygiene procedures, he said.
Mosney Management “advise that the EHO has already examined the working of the Food Hall,” he said. “Centres are also inspected by an independent, external inspectorate with expertise in food and fire safety, under contract to Reception and Integration Agency.”
The Department of Justice didn’t respond to queries for an April article on the shop at Mosney, about why asylum seekers were being made to use this segregated shop, rather than just buying their groceries in a regular store with everyone else.
In response to a number of parliamentary questions on the subject at that time, Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality David Stanton also didn’t directly address this.
Choudel says she would rather do her shopping in an ordinary supermarket. “I’d prefer to buy outside,” she says. “We don’t buy outside. With €19 per week you can’t afford to.”
Michelle, another asylum seeker who lives in Mosney, says the shop is not well organised or stocked sufficiently to cater for the approximately 900 people who live in Mosney.
“There is not enough food,” she says. “Often the bread is finished, the vegetables are finished.”
Residents are not given money to spend at the shop, but rather “points”. It is unclear how much each point is worth, in terms of euro.
Michelle says she receives 93 points per week for herself and her two children. She spends 14 of those points just on baby milk, she says, so they don’t go far.
Michelle says €93 would be enough for her to do her family food shopping if she could choose where she did it. But 93 points is not enough when using the shop in Mosney.
Some families got an additional five points per week recently, while others didn’t get that raise, says Michelle. She doesn’t know why, and she thinks it is very unfair.
Khambule says that a lack of transparency around the allocation of points is an issue. No one can understand why two families of the same size get different numbers of points, he says.
“I met many people yesterday [Sunday] as it was Africa Day,” he said. “They say that they get their points issued on Monday and by Wednesday they are all used up.”