At least 29 Salmonella infections in Belgium and a total of 125 in Europe have been linked to the Ferrero factory in Arlon in the south of the country.
Based on detailed DNA analyses on different samples from Belgian patients carried out by the Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain (FASFC), 29 cases can currently be linked to the Salmonella outbreak at the factory, the agency stated in a press release on Wednesday.
"In the meantime, infections have been reported in eight European countries and the United Kingdom. In these countries - including Belgium - further investigations into additional suspected cases are underway," the statement read.
An additional 20 Belgian Salmonella cases from recent months are also currently being considered suspect and are being analysed to understand whether there is a connection with the Arlon factory, the agency added.
"The investigation at the Arlon plant and the possible cause of the Salmonella infections is still ongoing. An investigation has also been started by the Public Prosecutor of Luxembourg," FASFC stated.
Cases and hospitalisations rising
In recent weeks, several cases of Salmonella have been reported in Europe, linked to the factory in Arlon. Many victims – mainly children – have ended up being hospitalised, according to De Standaard.
After the first Salmonella cases were detected in the EU and UK which were linked to certain Kinder chocolate products, the factory in Wallonia has been shut down. Kinder products are being removed from shelves around the world and as far as New Zealand.
European authorities investigating the case, including the European Control and Disease Centre (ECDC) and the European Food Standards Authority (EFSA), have stated that “most of the cases are children under the age of 10, and an exceptionally high proportion of them have been hospitalised.” Just under half of the cases in Belgium have ended up in the hospital, according to official figures.
Ferrero stated that the cause of the contamination was found in December on a filter of two reservoirs that held raw materials. However, the company insists that any chocolate that could have been contaminated was stopped from leaving the factory.
However, the ECDC report shows that Salmonella was found in samples of residual raw materials from buttermilk tanks. “The company has taken some hygiene measures and increased the sampling and testing of products and the processing environment. After a negative Salmonella test, it subsequently distributed the chocolate products throughout Europe and worldwide.”
- Investigation opened into salmonella contamination in Belgian Ferrero factory
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The report also states that “the first identified case in the UK on December 21 cannot be explained by the contamination detected in December. This suggests that if the Belgian factory was the only source of the infection, the contamination in the production line occurred earlier.”
Since the closure of the Arlon factory, unions and Ferrero have guaranteed wages until 8 May for contracted employees. “A solution has yet to be found for seasonal workers without a contract,” Socialist Union Secretary Didier Pironet said. This could concern hundreds of employees.
This article was updated at 16:00 to include the FASFC statement.