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Belgium deals with more complaints about food sold online

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The Belgian food agency officers have investigated more than 450 complaints about websites or social media profiles selling food in the past two years.

Inspectors at the Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain (FASFC) found that, in most cases, the seller was not registered. Authorization from the agency is required as people who sell food online are part of the food chain and are responsible for the safety of their products.

There were 240 complaints recorded in 2022 and more than 210 in 2023. This is up from 170 in 2021. Some complaints involved homemade food products, such as baked goods and prepared meals, sold through social networks such as Facebook Marketplace.

Consumers often asked if the person or company offering food online was known to FASFC. Over the past two years, a third of complaints related to this issue. In the majority of cases, it was found that sellers were not registered with FASFC.

Food is increasingly offered via the internet and social media, which is why FASFC has inspectors specializing in e-commerce.

Ensure the seller is registered
As well as it being legally necessary to make FASFC aware of online food-selling activities, it also helps the agency react quickly to an incident. If consumers become ill or have an allergic reaction, FASFC must be able to determine where the problem is in the food chain so it can be contained as much as possible.

It is not prohibited to sell food through Facebook Marketplace or other platforms, but specific steps must be followed. These include registering as a self-employed person to be given two numbers and then registering operations with FASFC. Depending on planned activities, a visit from FASFC may be required before approval is granted. There is a fee, and other services may be invoiced, such as visits linked to a re-inspection.

FASFC, also known as AFSCA and FAVV, said consumers should be able to find sufficient information about a company, such as its name and address, contact details, and operating number on its online website or social media page.

The agency added that suspicious sellers often only want to communicate via private channels like Messenger or WhatsApp. The company number is the best way to ensure the seller is known to Belgian authorities.

David Clarinval, Minister of Agriculture, said: “It is essential to ensure that food sold online is as safe and compliant as products offered through traditional channels. Online sales are gaining importance and food safety must always be guaranteed. In addition, effective controls contribute to fairer competition between different suppliers.”

Food safety culture
FASFC also recently held a meeting with its scientific and advisory committees. The annual event’s theme focused on the concept of food safety culture.

Several professors from the University of Ghent, Rebeca Fernandez, a representative of FoodDrinkEurope, and three Belgian companies presented at the meeting.

Belgium holds the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union from January to June 2024. Food safety culture will also be the theme of a meeting of the Heads of Food Safety Agencies in June and of the international symposium of FASFC’s scientific committee.

Herman Diricks, FASFC CEO, said the importance of food safety culture should not be underestimated.

“It is not just a list to check off, but an intrinsic element of corporate culture. For each employee, whatever their function, but also whatever the size of the company. I am convinced that a good corporate culture can limit incidents as much as possible and prevent them from turning into a crisis.”

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