The number of outbreaks and people sick in them was higher in 2022 than the year before, according to the Belgian food agency.

Belgium recorded 830 outbreaks in 2022 compared to 547 in 2021, with 4,247 people affected compared to 2,070 in 2021. In 2022, 125 people were hospitalized, and two died.

The rise may partly be because of increased activity in the hospitality, restaurant, and catering sector after large closures because of COVID-19. The various incidents, such as Salmonella contamination at Ferrero, may also have raised consumer awareness and encouraged them to report illnesses, said the Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain (FASFC).

Outbreak data
A dozen Bacillus Cereus outbreaks affected 172 people, while nine Salmonella outbreaks sickened 206. The incident linked to Ferrero chocolate caused 64 cases in Belgium.

Seven histamine outbreaks had 44 cases, and one Yersinia enterocolitica incident led to 17 illnesses. In five Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) outbreaks, 15 people were sick, and two Listeria outbreaks had five cases. Two Clostridium perfringens incidents had 46 cases and two deaths.

Eleven outbreaks caused by viruses affected 816 people, and one linked to parasites sickened 15. The agent was unknown for 772 outbreaks, according to data from Sciensano, Belgium’s national public health institute.

In early July 2023, Ferrero found Salmonella again at its plant in Arlon and the implicated production line was temporarily stopped. No final product tested positive and by the end of the month, the factory had returned to full production with shipments being ramped up over time.

Fraud work
FASFC, also known as AFSCA or FAVV, had previously revealed 394 recalls in 2022 as well as 5,000 complaints and 6,600 questions to its advice line.

The agency carried out 70,260 samples in 2022, and 97.8 percent of them were compliant. Almost 16,000 warnings were issued, and temporary closure was required on nearly 300 occasions.

In 2022, several incidents occurred in large companies in the food sector. A few months apart, Ferrero and Barry Callebaut were confronted with unrelated contamination by Salmonella. Also, Milcobel, a major player in the dairy market, revealed a problem with Listeria monocytogenes at one of its sites. Contamination was found during self-checks, there were no related illnesses, but large amounts of cheese had to be recalled.

FASFC’s food fraud unit received 834 information dealing with potential fraud in 2022, and 600 investigations were opened.

Operations included wider EU work on testing for sugars added to honey, sunflower oil due to the invasion of Ukraine, additives in sweets imported from non-EU countries, sulfites in meat to hide spoilage, potato variety fraud, and illegal sale and processing of game meat.

A particular focus was food supplements, with some found to contain sildenafil without it being listed on the label. Checks online and on posted items revealed only 12 of 86 samples were compliant.

Herman Diricks, managing director of FASFC, said: “The food incidents that occurred in 2022 remind us that we must not let our guard down. It is essential that everyone involved in the food chain buys into the culture of food safety and acts accordingly to maintain a high level of food safety and consumer confidence. Therefore, a strong and effective agency is more necessary than ever to monitor the food chain.”

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