Figures from Belgium show the number of outbreaks and people sick in them declined in 2023.

The Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain’s (FASFC) annual report reveals that 722 outbreaks were reported: 3,194 people were affected, 76 were hospitalized, and one died. This is lower than the record number in 2022, which saw 830 outbreaks, 4,247 people sick, and two deaths.

Only in six cases in 2023 could it be demonstrated that food was the cause, as food and human samples contained the same bacteria, viruses, or toxins that triggered the disease.

Data from Sciensano, Belgium’s national public health institute, shows that viruses, such as norovirus, caused 15 outbreaks with 478 cases. Two were linked to oysters.

Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) was behind 14 outbreaks with 48 cases. One incident was linked to fermented raw milk. The agent was unknown in 662 outbreaks.

Salmonella and Bacillus cereus caused seven outbreaks, with 38 and 60 cases, respectively. One person died as part of three Listeria outbreaks, with 17 cases. Three outbreaks caused by parasites also had 17 patients. Two Clostridium perfringens outbreaks had 53 patients.

A tool used to indicate changes in the state of food safety in Belgium has increased by 2.2 percent from 2022 to 2023. The main reasons for the rise in the food safety barometer are a decline in people affected by possible food poisoning, a reduction in salmonellosis cases, and fewer findings of Campylobacter in carcasses and meat.

Recalls and fraud cases
Belgian food companies recalled 254 products from consumers in 2023 compared to 289 recalls the year before. There were also 85 warnings, mainly because of undeclared product allergens or the wrong date on the packaging. More than eight of 10 recalls were due to a chemical or microbiological risk.

A consumer contact point dealt with 4,865 complaints in 2023. About a third fell into the hygiene category. The second largest group concerned people who have fallen ill and believe it was caused by eating a particular food item. The issues raised were justified in about half of the checks carried out following a consumer complaint. In 5 percent of controls, shortcomings other than those mentioned in the complaint were noted.

In 2023, all EU member states made 4,685 notifications via the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF). The Belgian contact point drew up 379 notifications, and Belgian products were the origin of 132 alerts.

Operators made 1,433 notifications in total, an increase from 2022. Microbiological risks were again the main reason for notifications, followed by chemical risks. The most frequent microbial issue concerned Salmonella on almost 250 occasions.

A Belgian investigations unit recorded almost 900 reports of potential fraud in 2023, and more than 600 investigations were opened. The unit received 156 reports and sent 113 notices via the European Administrative Assistance and Cooperation System – Food Fraud (AAC-FF).  

Examples include participation in Europol’s Silver Axe operation, which targets illegal plant protection products, and Operation Opson, which looks into counterfeit food and drink.   

Other tests included food supplements, sunflower oil, American and Asian sweets, and butchers’ use of sulfites. Controls were also undertaken at airports and via road checks.

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