The Belgian food safety agency has given the green light for Ferrero to resume production at the factory behind a large, International Salmonella outbreak.
The Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain (FASFC) decided to allow conditional approval for the plant in Arlon, Belgium.
FASFC, also known as AFSCA and FAVV, suspended operations at the factory in April, which led to the recall of all products in the Kinder product line that were made there. This action was taken as authorities said the company was not able to provide guarantees around management of the contamination or the safety of its products.
Ferrero acknowledged there were “internal inefficiencies,” creating delays in getting and sharing information, which impacted the speed and effectiveness of investigations.
In May, Ferrero applied to FASFC to be permitted to produce again. The Arlon plant makes about 7 percent of the total Kinder products manufactured globally per year.
Conditional approval granted
The monophasic Salmonella Typhimurium outbreak linked to Kinder chocolate has sickened almost 450 people including 122 in the United Kingdom, 118 in France as well as four in Canada and one in the United States.
The two outbreak strains were identified in 10 of 81 Salmonella positive samples taken in the Arlon plant in Belgium between December 2021 and January 2022. Sampling of products and the processing environment was increased but batches of chocolate were released to market after negative Salmonella testing.
Ferrero said the decision means the site will begin the reopening process and progressive restart of production lines during the next few weeks.
Conditional approval has been granted for three months. During this period, the raw materials and each batch of foodstuffs will be analyzed. They will only be released to market if results are compliant.
The decision comes after FASFC carried out several onsite checks of internal procedures put in place by Ferrero and the infrastructure of the factory. The agency judged that Ferrero now offers the necessary guarantees to comply with food safety requirements.
However, FASFC said the approval was conditional as it was necessary to verify how the internal procedures worked once the factory had resumed production. If inspection results at the end of the three month period are satisfactory, a full authorization should be issued.
An investigation into the incident by the Luxembourg Public Prosecutor’s Office is also ongoing.
Planning for restart
About 1,000 Ferrero employees and independent specialists have been working on the restart.
More than 1,800 quality tests have been completed and 10,000 parts have been dismantled and cleaned. Investments include replacing multiple pieces of equipment and installing 300 meters of new pipeline. The company has also updated product safety protocols, training and sampling.
“We are very pleased to have received the green light from the Belgian food safety authority. We are truly sorry for what happened and would like to apologize once again to all those impacted. We have never experienced a situation like this in our 75-year history. We have taken learnings from this unfortunate event and will do everything to ensure it does not happen again,” said Lapo Civiletti, CEO of the Ferrero Group.