The Belgian food agency’s consumer contact point received almost 4,000 complaints in 2021.
The 3,929 complaint count is up slightly from 3,605 in 2020, but this reflects the re-opening of caterers, restaurants and takeaways after COVID-19 restrictions, according to officials.
The Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain’s (FASFC) contact point received messages on food poisoning, problems with a purchased item and questions about the information on product labels. It can be reached in French and Dutch by phone, email or by completing an online form.
Because of lockdowns from October 2020 to June 2021, there were fewer complaints about hotel, restaurant and catering (horeca) businesses, officials reported.
Suspected food poisoning
A quarter of messages were from people who had fallen ill and suspected a certain food or establishment. FASFC, also known as AFSCA or FAVV, handled 980 complaints relating to hygiene in food businesses. A fifth of complaints concerned the manufacturing or storage method, such as non-compliance with temperatures or dates.
Complaints are forwarded to officials in the field. In 40 percent of cases it is found that the complainant is justified and action is taken.
A total of 5,107 questions were also received from consumers.
The wave of alerts because of the presence of ethylene oxide in foodstuffs led to a significant increase in the number of questions about recalls. People wondered about the health risk if they consumed a recalled product and if a purchased item was affected by the recall.
A survey among people who used the consumer contact point found 92 percent of them were satisfied with the service and 90 percent would recommend it to others.
FASFC has also revealed that 6,250 checks were carried out on the import of British products such as cheese and meat in 2021.
Controls are now required as the United Kingdom is no longer a member of the European Union. This includes verifying shipments have the necessary documentation and whether goods comply with EU rules. Full checks on the majority of imports into Great Britain from the EU have yet to be introduced.
Almost 6,000 shipments of products of animal origin were checked at the Belgian border including pet food and foodstuffs such as meats and dairy products. In Belgium, the port of Zeebrugge is the main point of entry for British goods.
Results show that 95 percent of the shipments comply with European legislation. This is in line with expectations, as UK businesses are familiar with EU legislation, said FASFC. From 261 refused consignments, 217 were rejected because documents were not in order.
FASFC recruited an additional 115 people in 2020 to deal with the new trade rules and in 2021 employees at a contact center for queries about Brexit received 194 questions, mainly relating to exporting to the UK.
Based on French data published in July 2021, more than 44,000 shipments had been checked at border control posts with many goods destined for other EU countries. In the six months beginning in January 2021, nearly 500 consignments were refused entry to Europe because of non-conformities detected during controls.
(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)