In 2021, we will all take a step back towards normalcy. With a peak in summer, when catering companies were allowed to welcome customers back on site. FASFC has remained focused on its most important mission: protecting consumers by ensuring the integrity of the food chain and the health of plants and animals.
However, some challenges crossed the agency’s path in 2021, including several product recalls, many of which were due to the presence of ethylene oxide, increased controls due to the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union, and the potential impact on the food chain following the discovery of environmental contamination using PFAS in Flanders, lifting of the ban on pig products and the return of the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus.
Activity Report 2021
A look at the key figures for the 2021 Annual Report
The consumer remains central to the FASFC:
- 10,000 consumers contacted the FASFC with questions about food safety or to raise problems with a food product or company. That’s an average of at least 19 questions or 16 complaints per day. Of the 3,929 complaints received by the FASFC, 40% were justified.
- 90% of consumers they contacted were satisfied with the follow-up of their report. Listening to consumers appears to be an effective way to maintain the integrity of the food chain.
Control and supervision of the food chain
- In 2021, 114,486 audit tasks were performed (2020: 104.729) and the compliance rate remained high: 85.7% of the checklists used during the inspection were compliant (2020: 86.1%).
- The FASFC took 68,848 samples across Belgium, which is an average of 271 samples per working day. 97.5% of samples complied with legal requirements (2020: 97.7%).
- When there is a food safety risk, the FASFC can take various measures. This ranges from issuing a warning (16,849 in 2021), preparing an official report (9,465 in 2021), confiscating products or, in exceptional cases, imposing a temporary shutdown (248 in 2021).
- In cooperation with the FASFC, food companies have recalled 492 products or issued a warning. 210 of these recoveries were due to a problem with ETO (ethylene oxide), a gaseous disinfectant that cannot be used in Europe.
- With several important (air) ports, Belgium appears to be a major gateway to the European Union. 132,887 shipments (6000 from the UK) were checked at the Belgian border and more than 98% of these shipments ended up in the European market.
- The increasing demand to open export markets and the importance of potential challenges (SPS) to exports require a proactive approach from the FASFC. The Agency therefore increasingly encourages the cooperation of all stakeholders (companies, federal and provincial authorities) and is in close consultation with these partners. In 2021, 19 new markets opened.
Support and guide small food companies
- In 2021, more than 4,000 professionals will follow FASFC free training. 97% of them are satisfied.
- The FASFC kicked off the third quarter of 2021 with a new type of format: online courses. At least 700 employees from the restaurant and kitchen sector have pursued this free e-learning.
One-year Brexit – significant impact on food imports and exports
Since the UK is no longer part of the European Union, all British food companies must follow the same import rules as other companies from other countries like China, America, etc. In 2021, the FASFC will conduct more checks. 6,250 consignments of British goods were checked at the Belgian border. It was found in 95% of the checks that the products comply with European legislation. Brexit also meant more work for inspectors on the export side of goods to the UK. In 2021, no less than 950 sanitary certificates were issued for animal and animal products and around 5,250 phytosanitary certificates for plants and products of plant origin destined for the UK.
Environmental pollution using PFAS – The FASFC has remained vigilant and carried out the necessary investigations
In June 2021, various media reported contamination with PFAS substances. This historical contamination emerged while working on the Oosterweel connection and turned out to come from 3M in Zwijndrecht. It was also feared that these substances were present in soil, water, air and … also in foodstuffs. Therefore the FASFC immediately began investigating the potential contamination of this PFAS in foodstuffs.
The first study focused on food companies located within 15 kilometers around the contaminated company. FASFC analyzed eggs, milk and meat from farms. It was concluded from the results that no additional actions were required for these companies at that time.
The second study was conducted to get an overall picture of PFAS values in different foodstuffs in the Belgian market. The research was first carried out in Flanders and this is in places where there were no indications of contamination in the past. Between August and November 2021, 175 food samples were taken from different farms in Flanders. Nor was it necessary to take additional measures for these nutrients.
Together with Federal Minister David Clarenvale, the FASFC has asked Europe to set standards for PFAS in food as soon as possible.
The first cases of bird flu in November 2021 – only 3 outbreaks in the last quarter of 2021 in Belgium
In the fall of 2021, the virus spread again among wild birds. On November 15, 2021, Minister Clarenval announced another period of heightened risk. This made it possible to take additional measures, such as the obligation to remain in cages, to reduce the risk of transmission of the virus to Belgian poultry farms.
It is clear that bird flu is becoming more frequent throughout the year. The FASFC therefore advises individuals to be vigilant and always protect their animals from wild birds (eg by extending a net) and calls on professional rangers to strictly follow biosecurity procedures.
Food safety measure for 2021 is declining
The food safety measure will decrease by 6.6% in 2021 compared to 2020.
This decrease can largely be explained by the significant increase in the number of mass food poisoning (CVTI) reports, which is 547 in 2021 (compared to 333 in 2020) and the number of people involved, ie 2,070 in 2021 (compared to 1262 in 2021 ). 2020).
It is important to note that 2020 has been a special year in this respect. Because of the restaurant industry shutdown, bans on gatherings — such as dinner parties — at home have led to a decrease in the number of CVTI reports. In addition, the numbers for 2021 are still slightly lower than in 2019, when 571 CVTIs were registered in 2,457 people involved.
A second explanation can be found in a decrease of approximately 6% in the number of adequate inspections of infrastructure, furniture and hygiene in the catering sector.
The Animal and Plant Health Scale shows an increase of 7.3% and 9.1%, respectively.
“The year 2021 saw a return to a more normal life, for consumers and businesses as well as for the FASFC. The agency has been able to continue its mission to protect consumers and the health of animals and plants. But incidents in the food chain, such as ethylene oxide (ETO) contamination of foodstuffs show that a robust and effective agency is always required to monitor food chain,” said Hermann Derricks, managing director of FASFC.
David Clarenvale, Federal Minister of Agriculture: “Apart from 2021 which was still severely affected by the Covid crisis, the FASFC faced several hurdles: the impact of Brexit, the return of bird flu, and infection-related problems., to name a few. And with That, as the numbers show, the FASFC has been able to maintain the integrity of the food chain and ensure consumer protection. I am very satisfied with the work of the Food Agency and its agents, for which I would like to thank you for this.”