The Ferrero Salmonella contamination incident led to a sharp rise in consumer requests for information, according to data from Belgium’s food agency.

On average, 45 complaints and questions are received by the Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain’s (FASFC) consumer contact point every day.

The 5,000 complaints and 6,600 questions in 2022 was the record number for the contact point.

Staff handled 6,628 inquiries. A sharp spike in requests for information was seen during the Salmonella contamination scare at Ferrero’s Belgian chocolate factory.

A monophasic Salmonella Typhimurium outbreak from Kinder chocolate sickened at least 450 people, including more than 60 in Belgium. Children were particularly affected and many of those ill were hospitalized. People fell sick between December 2021 and June 2022. Operations at the Arlon factory were suspended in April but allowed to resume in September 2022.

Nearly 3,000 requests concerned food recalls and warnings published by FASFC. Consumers ask what the risk is if they have consumed products listed in an alert, how to identify affected items, and what to do if they have already purchased a product.

More than 2,000 questions were asked just before the Easter holiday, following the recall of different Kinder products.

Overall, questions ranged from information on a label or expiry dates, a problem with a purchased food product, or the authorization of food companies.

Consumers also asked how to properly store produce, how best to protect poultry against avian flu, and the difference between use-by and best-before dates. Almost all consumer inquiries were answered within four working days.

Complaints because of possible food poisoning
Complaints were up 27 percent in 2022 compared to the year before. However, some of the rise is due to parts of the hotel, restaurant, and catering sector reopening after being closed in 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic, which meant people ate out less.

About a third of complaints received in 2022 concerned potential food poisoning. This is a slight increase of 5 percent from the year before. A quarter dealt with hygiene in food establishments and 17 percent were concerned with issues related to storage methods such as temperatures or expiry dates.

Complaints are forwarded to officials who make decisions on what actions to take. In 2022, more than 90 percent of complaints were handled by the FASFC within 30 days. The agency is also known as AFSCA in French and FAVV in Dutch.

In about half of the cases, officials were able to observe, during an onsite inspection, that the complaint was justified, and ensure the necessary measures were taken.

Earlier this year, Belgian authorities revealed they had recorded 240 complaints in 2022 about the sale of food products online, compared to 170 in 2021.

The 782 consumers who took part in a satisfaction survey gave a score of 8.6 out of 10 to the services of the contact point. Also, 88 percent would recommend the service to others.

David Clarinval, Minister of Agriculture, said: “The record number of complaints sent to the FASFC contact point in 2022 shows that consumers are increasingly attentive when it comes to food safety. The role of the consumer should not be underestimated: complaints bring added value to the protection of our food chain.”

FASFC can be contacted by submitting an online form or via e-mail. There is also a phone number and questions can be asked on Facebook and Twitter.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)