A group of food and public health organizations from around the world has created a central, online forum for sharing up-to-date information on the risks facing food supplies.

Last week marked the official launch of the International Center for Excellence in Food Risk Communication. The center’s goal is to provide the latest data and research on food safety to those concerned with food risks, including consumers, health professionals, food producers and regulators, in order to help them make more informed decisions.

The center was founded by the International Food Information Council (IFIC) and five partner organizations as a response to researchers and government agencies who have expressed a need to get accurate information on food safety to the general public and to professionals more quickly and efficiently, according to David Schmidt, president and CEO of IFIC.

“Talking with different regulatory agencies, they feel a certain sense of frustration that sometimes their ability to get information out can be hampered by their own processes,” said Schmidt in an interview with Food Safety News. “So this was an idea of having a central place where consumers or health professionals can find some context or the bottom line on a particular issue, whether it’s breaking or not.”

Often, in a global food safety crisis such as the current one arising from the damaged nuclear power plant in Japan, misinformation spreads alongside facts, explains Schmidt. He says the Center’s goal is to make sure people know the real scope of a situation and how to react to it.

“Hopefully we can help avoid misinterpretation or misunderstandings that could lead to public health mistakes or an individual’s health mistake,” he says.

The Center will also serve as a database for ongoing research on food safety, to be used by professionals involved in food production or safety monitoring, such as an agricultural extension agent.

“This might be a place they can look for key studies and best practices,” Schmidt says.

For example, the site includes information on food allergy and intolerance, food chemicals, food irradiation, biotechnology, food from cloned animals and food animal antibiotics, among other topics.

Any material on the website must be approved by at least one of the Center’s member groups before it’s posted. In addition to IFIC, participating organizations include:

  • Food Standards Australia New Zealand
  • Health Canada
  • Joint Institute for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition
  • National Center for Food Protection and Defense
  • United States Department of Agriculture

In keeping with its international base, the center hopes to provide resources on food safety issues affecting people around the world, in both developing and developed nations, says Schmidt.

“The site will only be as useful as we are at keeping it loaded with relevant topics and interests,” he says. “So that will require [us] to be sure that we’re hitting things that have a global impact.”

So far, response to the site has been enthusiastic, Schmidt says. Non-partners such as the World Health Organization and the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization have already expressed their support for the center and have contributed to its site.

International Food Information Council Foundation is an independent, Washington D.C.-based nonprofit whose founding principle is that credible science should drive food policy and consumer choice.