Bureaucrats in Brussels have tallied up the damage last year’s E. coli O104:H4 outbreak did to the European fruit and vegetable business and threatened to use European Union law to make sure it does not happen again.
Yet, the newly released “Commission Staff Working Document” into “lessons learned” about the 2011 outbreak probably won’t shake up the EU. The recommendations seem more likely to generate yawns than controversy among EU members.
The O104 outbreak was centered on Northern Germany, peaking around May 22, 2011, with the Bordeaux part of the outbreak following mostly in June. Germany experienced the brunt of the outbreak with 3,842 infections, including 855 with hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) and 53 deaths.
Another 137 cases throughout Europe, including 54 HUS cases and 2 deaths were connected to the E. coli O104 outbreak. According to the “lessons learned” report, 31 of those cases–including 7 HUS cases–were in the Bordeaux region of France.
After dissecting what happened, the Commission staff seems mainly concerned about improving coordination and communication next time, something that seems to be a fairly common EU problem.
The European Commission wore several hats during the outbreak. Even while the food safety crisis continued, the EU mechanics were working to deal with financial losses to Euro fruit and vegetable growers and chart an economic recovery for the section.
The report says losses totaled 812.6 million euros, mostly to Spain, Italy, Poland, The Netherlands, Germany, Greece, France and Belgium. The Commission’s 27 member counties declared damages of 226.2 million euros, and the EU reimbursed 178.2 million euros.
Most went to the same list of impacted counties for distribution to fruit and vegetable producers. Lost sales, low prices, and overcapacity led to the claimed damages.
“Arguably the biggest was on the image of fresh produce,” says the report.
Egyptian-grown sprouts were the cause of 2011 outbreak and the commission staff made several recommendations for improving the safety of sprouts and other ”food of non-animal origin.” These included:
-Strengthening the EU’s ability to protect citizens against cross border health threats.
-Increasing hygiene awareness for foods of non-animal origin.
-Improving preparedness for all key players involved in outbreaks.
-Better coordination and closer communication.
-Improving market intervention and product promotion tools to limit negative economic impacts.
-Strengthening public-private initiatives for citizen/consumer awareness.
-Increasing respect for all roles involved in an outbreak.
The report points out that the EU has general, hygiene, and preparedness and monitoring legislative authorities. While it provides examples of how that authority is used, it is not clear about how that authority might be used in the future because of the E. coli O104 outbreak.© Food Safety News