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INFOSAN’s involvement in food safety incidents doubles

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A global food safety network has been involved in almost double the number of incidents in recent years.

INFOSAN was active during 162 food safety events in all regions in 2018 and 2019. This included 84 in 2019 and 78 in 2018. He was involved in 84 international incidents during 2016 and 2017.

The International Network of Food Safety Authorities (INFOSAN), launched in 2004, is managed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.

Biological hazards were responsible for the largest number of INFOSAN events, the most common of which was Salmonella spp. There were 110 alarms involving a biological hazard, 29 involving a physical hazard, 11 due to a chemical hazard, 11 involving an undeclared allergen and one an unspecified hazard.

Salmonella a major issue
Salmonella was responsible for 41 events in 2018-2019. Followed by 22 due to Listeria monocytogenes, 13 due to E. coli, six due to Norovirus, five due to Clostridium spp., Hepatitis A virus and unspecified biological risks had four each, three for Vibrio spp., Two each due to Bacillus spp., Cronobacter sakazakii, Cyclospora cayetanensis and one for Anisakis, Mycotoxins, Pseudomonas spp. and Staphylococcus aureus.

For chemical hazards, issues involving excessive amounts of heavy metals occurred more frequently, other hazards responsible for food safety events were iodine, ciguatera toxins, histamine, hydrogen cyanide, methanol, boron, and an unspecified hazard.

Twenty-three incidents involved milk and dairy products, 19 were due to fish and other seafood, 15 were due to snacks, sweets and other foods, and 14 were due to meat and meat products.

The INFOSAN Secretariat facilitates communication and shares information on food safety among network members. This allows countries to remove contaminated food from international and domestic markets and mitigate the risk of foodborne illness outbreaks.

Time and region of incidents
The average time that the INFOSAN Secretariat remained engaged in an event was 10 days, with a minimum of one day and a maximum of 134 days, compared to an average of 28 days during 2016-2017.

The longest-running involvement was the outbreak of listeriosis associated with internationally distributed frozen vegetables produced in Hungary by Greenyard. It affected 54 people in six countries with 10 deaths from 2015 to 2018.

Most of the 162 events involved countries in the European Region, followed by the Western Peace and the Americas with between 80 and 92 incidents. The Eastern Mediterranean, African and Southeast Asian regions were part of 21 to 34 events.

Most reports in 2018/2019 were sent to the secretary by an INFOSAN emergency contact point or a focal point, followed by the European Commission RASFF contact.

While the percentage of event notifications coming directly from the INFOSAN emergency contact points or focal points increased in 2018-2019 compared to previous years, according to the report there is room for improvement.

Delays in reporting food safety events mean that unsafe food may remain on the market, available to consumers for purchase, and may result in preventable foodborne illness in many countries.

Capacity building
To strengthen regional capacity, INFOSAN supported workshops in Tunisia and Ghana focused on building links between national agencies involved in food security to better address the emergency response.

The report identified limitations on the basic oversight capacity to detect food-borne diseases and food safety events in many countries.

This underscores the continuing need for INFOSAN to partner with FAO and WHO capacity building programs to support the overall development of food safety systems. As national food safety systems are strengthened, INFOSAN members will become better equipped and able to identify, communicate and respond to food safety emergencies.

Meanwhile, researchers have outlined the views of INFOSAN members to better understand the role of the network in improving food security.

An online questionnaire was adapted from English to French and Spanish before being sent to INFOSAN members. Responses were received from 239 members in 137 countries between August and October 2019. The study was published in Journal of Food Protection.

More than two thirds of the respondents agreed or strongly agreed that because of INFOSAN, diseases were prevented and life was saved. Sixty-two percent agreed that it has improved the security of global food supply and 59 percent strongly agreed or agreed that INFOSAN has reduced the burden of food-borne diseases globally.

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