What about the safety of our food and how is it monitored?

Suspected salmonella contamination in chocolate products from the Ferrero factory in Arlon raises questions about the safety of our food and how to monitor it. Immediately reassure those who will soon put a ready-made meal on the menu: “Our food today is much safer than it was before the start of industrial food production.”

Luke Bernaert

Who controls our food?

In the first place, the Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain (FASFC) promises vigilance “from notch to fork”: the food agency controls primary production (livestock, farming, slaughterhouses), in the transport sector with road inspections, in distribution (also in restaurants) and when importing food products. The FASFC has five of its own laboratories and also uses accredited external laboratories. The control system starts with the companies that have to analyze the samples themselves. If they notice a potential problem, it is their duty to report it to the FASFC and we follow it up,” says spokeswoman Hélène Bonte. “We check if they comply with this obligation to self-monitor. In addition, we ourselves take unannounced samples at enterprises and inspect raw materials, trading premises and machinery there. We also take random samples of food in the market. We do most analyzes where the risks are greatest, for example where raw meat is processed.

Is this control working properly?

In recent years, the number of recalls by the FASFC has increased. How did this happen? “This can show that the controls are working,” says Professor of Chemical Food Safety Bruno de Molinier (UGent). “Although this may also indicate that there are actually more problems. The complexity of the production chain does not make it simple either. The milk is relatively simple, but the cookie has so many ingredients that something can go wrong. Every now and then it needs sector to a wake-up call.The producer has to put every supplier to test, but take sunflower oil for example, which has to come from somewhere else because of the war.If you change supplier under time pressure, a number of checks will be lost and can arise Suddenly a problem. Supply chains have become very complex.” Benedikt Sas, professor at the Department of Food Safety (UGent), sees a weak correlation in sampling. “They are not always conducted according to the rules by recognized samplers and commercial laboratories that rate most samples negatively for potential risks are the most common. Compared to other countries we have a good control system, but savings are to be had everywhere and in the long run you can Less analysis and things are slipping through the cracks in the network. FASFC’s budgets remain the same, but their costs are increasing. We have to make sure those holes don’t get bigger and bigger.”

Are controls lagging behind developments in food production?

“Governmental oversight is lagging behind in terms of, for example, switching to more plant foods,” says De Meulenaer. “From the scientific committee advising the FASFC, we point out these developments. Take the bread sector for example: in the past you had local bakeries, nowadays more bread is bought from supermarkets that was produced abroad. So you should also Inspection of grains there. For example, pre-cut salads, which we didn’t know 15 years ago, also pose microbiological risks. Or the short-chain trend, with farm butchers and dairies: There, too, we have to see if everything is kosher. It’s Constant adjustment, and there is always a delaying effect.”

What are the basic rules that you should keep in mind when shopping?

Always check the expiration date and whether the packaging is intact. Also know that products from your country are subject to stricter regulations than those from abroad. Not all E numbers on the label should arouse suspicion. For example, ascorbic acid also contains E number, but that’s vitamin C. Those numbers refer to preservatives that inhibit microbial growth,” says Sass. “Keep the cold chain as intact as possible,” advises De Meulenaer. “Heat makes bacteria grow faster. The refrigerator is often set to a very high temperature. Keep heated raw products separate. Pathogens don’t die on raw produce, and if you mix it with hot food, pathogens will thrive there. The rule of thumb is difference: Don’t eat the same thing every day, you’re spreading risk with variety.”

Does our purchasing behavior lead to accidents?

“Our desire for cheap food saddles us with less safe food,” Sass says. The primary sector and food companies today are also suffering from high prices for energy and raw materials. Getting everything from outside is not smart because there are often less stringent rules about food safety.” De Meulenaer believes that our food is much safer today than it was before industrial production started. “Professionalism in the food sector is very high, there are strict controls and precautions Compact. Above all, there is more knowledge than before. So no, ready-made meals are no less safe than what you cook yourself with fresh produce. Traditional is not necessarily safer than industrial.” Although it is tastier with a good chef at home.

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