Belgian authorities recorded 240 complaints in 2022 about the sale of food products online, according to a new report.

The Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain (FASFC) has inspectors specializing in e-commerce that control online shops and deal with consumer complaints.

In the past two years, they have investigated more than 400 complaints about websites or social media profiles offering food for sale. In most cases, sellers did not have authorization from the FASFC.

In 2022, a record number of 240 complaints were handled by FASFC inspectors, compared to 170 in 2021.

A significant portion is related to homemade food products, such as baked goods and prepared meals, which are often sold through sites such as Facebook Marketplace. In the majority of cases, sellers were not registered with the FASFC. The agency is also known as AFSCA in French and FAVV in Dutch.

Requirement to register
Authorization from FASFC before starting operations is mandatory because someone selling food online is considered part of the food chain and is responsible for the safety of the products sold. There are exceptions for vendors classed as occasional under the related regulations.

Registration also means FASFC can visit the site of production to ensure compliance and react quickly in the event of an incident. If people fall ill or have an allergic reaction, authorities need to be able to determine where the problem occurred in the supply chain, to contain the incident as much as possible so mitigation measures can be put in place.

Officials advised consumers to ensure they can find sufficient information about a business, such as company name and address, contact details, and business number on the online site or the social media page.

Suspicious sellers often only want to communicate through private channels like Messenger or WhatsApp. The business number is the best way to ensure that the seller is known to Belgian authorities, said FASFC.

Consumers can contact the agency by phone, email, or an online form if they have questions about the safety of a food product sold online.

Food is increasingly offered online via the internet and through social media, with other national agencies also looking at the issue.

Research published by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) found factors such as the seller and product type influence consumer trust in the hygiene and safety of food sold online, while a set of voluntary guidelines on the topic has been created in Singapore.

In 2017, the European Commission launched a coordinated control program for online-offered food products. Also, from 2020 to 2021 another action targeted products sold via the internet that was advertised as protecting against Coronavirus infection.

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