Belgium’s food production, preparation and consumption was safer in 2019 than in 2018, and consumers were better informed, according to the latest annual report (FR/NL) from the Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain (FASFC).
The agency carries out inspections of all stages of food production and consumption, from producers to suppliers like restaurants and retailers.
The agency carried out 106,552 inspections in 2019, with 86.6% being given a clean bill of health. That compares with slightly fewer checks in 2018 – 106,143 – where only 85.6% were clear.
Herman Diricks, managing director of the agency, welcomes the improvement.
“And if it turns out that a company is not functioning well, it is followed up until a favourable result is achieved,” he said. “The pressure on those companies is kept high by follow-up checks. After all, any improvements made must be sustainable.”
As well as checks on food production and preparation, the agency makes a priority of providing information to the public.
“In 2019, the agency mainly focused on providing complete and correct information to consumers and producers, with special attention to the correct labelling of foodstuffs and an efficient system of product recalls and warnings (such as those regarding allergens),” the agency said.
“2019 has proven that the rapid response to food contamination and food poisoning outbreaks is paying off.”
An example was the outbreak in a catering college in West Flanders in September 2019 of salmonella, in which 203 people became ill. The infection was traced to eggs from Spain used in a tartare sauce.
The agency turned to the RASFF (Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed) which shares information between member states of the EU, as well as the European Commission, the European Food Safety Authority, the UN’s food and agriculture agency, Norway, Liechtenstein, Iceland and Switzerland.
The egg producer was inspected by the Spanish authorities, who found the same strain of salmonella in their plant.
Food safety in Belgium in figures:
• More operators (companies and other organizations active in the food chain) were audited: 57,270 compared to 55,098 in 2018. • A total of 68,684 samples were taken, an average of 300 per working day in Belgium, and 97.3% were found to be in order, compared to 96.5 % in 2018. • The agency handled 18 consumer complaints every working day; 9.3 out of 10 are closed within 30 days and 40% are well-founded and lead to measures being taken. • The organised a total of 331 training sessions for small producers in which 8,000 professionals took part. Two out of three of the training courses were given at the request of groups of operators. • 707 investigations into food fraud were initiated by the investigation unit of the agency; 418 reports of offences were filed and 60 searches were carried out by inspectors accompanied by the police.
“Where 2017 and 2018 were particularly turbulent years for the FASFC, 2019 was a year without commotion, but no less intense for all that,” Herman Diricks said. “Food safety has improved thanks to daily checks, training for companies and dynamic and professional communication with consumers and other stakeholders.”