Kinder maker Ferrero has been granted “conditional authorisation” from Belgium’s food-safety body to reopen its salmonella-hit plant in Arlon.

Belgium’s AFSCA ordered Ferrero to suspend operations at the facility on 8 April after the site was implicated as the source of monophasic Salmonella Typhimurium. More than 400 confirmed cases have been reported worldwide from the consumption of the privately-owned Italian firm’s Kinder chocolate products.

AFSCA has now granted Ferrero a three-month authorisation window to recommence operations at Arlon following an in-depth investigation.

“During this period, the raw materials, as well as each batch of food produced, will be analysed. Only if these analyses give a compliant result can the products be placed on the market,” AFSCA, which falls under the Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain (FASFC), said in a statement.

Full operational authorisation will be given after three months “in the event of favourable inspection results”.

AFSCA added: “The FASFC is of the opinion that, as things stand, Ferrero offers the necessary guarantees of compliance with food-safety rules and requirements.

“Nevertheless, the FASFC has opted for a conditional authorisation because the agency considers it essential to be able to verify the practical application of all internal procedures once the plant has resumed its production activities.”

Ferrero said in a statement today (17 June) the process to reopen the plant has begun following “extensive cleaning and food-safety controls”, adding it will begin the “progressive restarting of the production lines over the next few weeks”.

The group had delayed reporting the outbreak before initiating a worldwide recall of chocolate products when the first illnesses came to light in the UK on 7 January.

The presence of Salmonella Typhimurium had been detected at the Arlon plant on 15 December, the Kinder maker acknowledged in April, noting the “point of origin was identified to be a filter at the outlet of two raw material tanks” and “materials and finished products were blocked and not released”.

Ferrero explained the processes initiated to get the plant up and running again to “ensure that a situation like this does not happen again”.

The company said today: “More than 1,800 quality tests have been completed, 10,000 parts dismantled and cleaned, and significant investments made. This includes the replacement of multiple pieces of equipment as well as the installation of 300 metres of new pipeline. We’ve also updated the product-safety protocols, trainings and sampling in the plant.”

David Clarinval, Belgium’s Minister of Agriculture, who is in charge of the FASFC, said: “I salute the quality work carried out by the FASFC in this complicated file. The conditional approval of the Ferrero plant in Arlon is the first step towards a final authorisation. I will continue to closely monitor developments in this matter.”

The most-recent incidence update from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) is 3 June, stating there have been 370 confirmed cases in the EU and the UK, and a further 22 probables linked to the plant. And another 53 have been confirmed in Switzerland, Canada and the US.

The clearance for Ferrero to reopen the Arlon plant also comes on the heels of raids on the company’s sites and offices by Belgium authorities. The Public Prosecutor’s Office for the region of Luxembourg confirmed last week documents and computer hardware had been seized during the raids.

Also last week, prosecutors in Paris launched a preliminary investigation, including a charge of “deception” against Ferrero. France has been one of the parts of Europe most heavily-hit by Kinder-linked salmonella illnesses.

Ferrero CEO Lapo Civiletti said today: “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 apologise 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”.