Belgium reported a significant rise in outbreaks of foodborne diseases in 2021

An additional 200 outbreaks were recorded in Belgium in 2021 compared to the previous year, according to the Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain (FASFC).

There was a significant increase in the number of food poisoning outbreaks from 333 in 2020 to 547 in 2021. The number of people infected increased from 1,262 with 27 hospitalizations and 2 deaths to 2,070 patients, 78 hospitalized but no deaths in 2021.

The FASFC, also known as AFSCA and FAVV, said it is important to remember that 2020 was an exceptional year due to the closure of many food companies due to COVID-19 related restrictions.

Last year’s numbers are still slightly lower than 2019, when 571 outbreaks were recorded and 2,457 people were affected.

The agent was unknown in 512 outbreaks with nearly 1,700 diseases in 2021, according to data from Sciensano, the national public health institute.

outbreak outbreak
Seven outbreaks of salmonella have sickened 97 people, and 25 have been hospitalized. Campylobacter has caused six and 33 diseases. Five outbreaks of norovirus infected 125 people, and five outbreaks of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli infected 33 and hospitalized 30.

Twenty people were infected in four outbreaks of Bacillus, 10 of every two outbreaks of Clostridium perfringens and one outbreak of Yersinia enterocolitica had 26 cases.

There was also an increase in the incidence of listeriosis, salmonellosis and campylobacteriosis compared to 2020.

The FASFC point of contact received nearly 4,000 complaints in 2021. A quarter of them were related to possible food poisoning after eating out or from a product they had purchased. Consumers were also concerned about hygiene and food processing and storage methods.

The annual report reveals that many of the product recalls were due to the presence of ethylene oxide and there was an increase in controls due to the UK leaving the EU.

Food companies have withdrawn or issued warnings about 492 and 210 ethylene oxide-related products.

Nearly 133,000 shipments, including more than 6,000 from the UK, have been checked at Belgian border control points and more than 98 percent of them have been accepted into the European market.

Inspections of British products showed that 95 per cent of shipments complied with EU laws. In 2021, FASFC issued 950 sanitary certificates for the export of animals and live products and 5250 phytosanitary certificates for plants and plant products destined for the UK.

Food fraud investigations
In 2021, the FASFC Investigation Unit (UNE) recorded 953 reports of potential fraud compared to 1,419 in 2020.

UNE received 82 reports and sent 69 notifications as part of the European Union’s food fraud network.

One process looked at nutritional supplements sold online and included examining published items. A total of 118 suspected dietary supplements and 90 containing illegal substances were analyzed.

UNE has also been involved in a horse investigation with INTERPOL and Europol as part of Operation Opson. In all, 21 control and examination of 190 horses and 237 passports were carried out.

This revealed 37 forged horse passports and opened 3 legal files and 15 administrative files. A total of 33 samples were taken from slaughterhouses to verify the use of veterinary drugs in the horse meat industry.

In the previous Opson system, import controls resulted in the confiscation of 4 tons of foodstuffs, mainly because the companies involved were not registered with the FASFC or the animal products came from countries where import is prohibited.

Another case involved France selling Belgian congress pears as French, resulting in a loss of traceability. Conference pears of French origin are sold at a higher price. Thanks to the investigation in Belgium, fraud can be proven.

The illegal sale of fish products without screening or sorting has been another focus. Since there are no tags or documentation on fishing quotas, tracking is not guaranteed. During a day’s work, six boats were inspected and four ships were involved in illicit sales. Two dealers were arrested buying these products.

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