Ferrero Salmonella Incident Sparked Increased Public Questions

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

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

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

The staff attended 6,628 queries. A sharp increase in information requests was noted during the Salmonella contamination scare at Ferrero’s Belgian chocolate factory.

A monophasic outbreak of Salmonella Typhimurium from Kinder chocolate sickened at least 450 people, including more than 60 in Belgium. Children were particularly affected and many of the sick were hospitalized. People fell ill 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 posted by FASFC. Consumers ask what the risk is if they have consumed products listed on 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 holidays, following the recall of different Kinder products.

In general, the questions ranged from information about a label or expiration dates, a problem with a purchased food product, or authorization from food companies.

Consumers also asked how to properly store products, how best to protect poultry against bird flu, and the difference between expiration and best before dates. Almost all consumer inquiries were answered within four business days.

Complaints about possible food poisoning
Complaints are up 27 percent in 2022 compared to the previous year. However, part of the increase is due to the reopening of parts of the hotel, restaurant and catering sector after closing in 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic, which meant people were eating less.

Around a third of the complaints received in 2022 concerned possible food poisoning. This is a slight increase of 5 percent over the previous year. A quarter were concerned with hygiene in food establishments, and 17 percent were concerned with issues related to storage methods, such as temperatures or expiration dates.

Complaints are sent to officials who make decisions about what action to take. In 2022, FASFC handled more than 90 percent of complaints 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 on-site inspection, that the complaint was justified and ensure that the necessary measures were taken.

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

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

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

FASFC can be contacted by submitting an online form or by email. There is also a phone number and you can ask questions on Facebook and Twitter.

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James D. Brown
James D. Brown
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