European and member state agencies have held a workshop on preparedness for a multi‐national food safety and public health incident.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), Austrian Health and Food Security Agency (AGES) and German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) jointly developed the workshop.
A total of 51 representatives from public health, food safety, and communications attended from Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovak Republic and Slovenia and the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety (DG-SANTE).
The aim was to encourage collaboration between food safety and public health disciplines and with member states and other European and international institutions.
The first day provided seven expertise‐sharing presentations. On the second day, a desktop simulation exercise was held on a multi‐national food safety public health scenario with a fictional outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes.
The third day combined feedback on the simulation exercise and discussions on the creation of a guidance document to inform the response of European Union member states.
Participants’ feedback indicated the activities had provided valuable insights, practical experience, and networking opportunities. Instinctif Partners, a business communications consultancy, company was involved in the project.
On day one, Christian Kornschober of AGES presented a case study of a Salmonella Stanley outbreak that began in Belgium in 2012. Officials suspected the source might be turkey meat due to an outbreak in Carinthia, Austria in 2011 traced to consumption of turkey. The situation developed with another outbreak of Salmonella Stanley in Upper Austria in 2012, with 51 reported cases.
Pulsed Field Gel Electrophoresis (PFGE) serotyping suggested contamination in the turkey meat production chain. This led to the implicated hatchery and fattening farms improving hygiene, and the number of cases decreased.
Johanna Takkinen (ECDC) and Valentina Rizzi (EFSA) discussed ongoing work to create a Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS) database to ensure integrated analysis of molecular typing data from foodborne pathogens.
Other talks described the Epidemic Intelligence Information System (EPIS), Early Warning Response System (EWRS), The European Surveillance System (TESSy), Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) and FoodChain-Lab.
EPIS is a risk assessment tool, owned by ECDC, while EWRS and RASFF are risk management platforms, owned by the European Commission. FoodChain-Lab is open-source software for trace-back and trace-forward analysis in foodborne disease outbreak investigations developed by the BfR.
On day two, a paper-based desktop simulation exercise detailed a multi-country outbreak in Austria, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Slovak Republic and Hungary from contamination of turkey meat with Listeria monocytogenes during production.
The task included simulated official documents, such as EWRS and EPIS alerts, epidemiological information, RASFF alerts and notifications on tracing data as well as media and social media coverage.
Objectives were to practice emergency risk communication under controlled conditions; rehearse collaboration during an ‘urgent response’ situation; improve familiarity with key resources and identify improvements and gaps.
Attendees said responding to a multi-national foodborne disease outbreak requires collaborative working on several levels and it is important to share information as early as possible.
“It’s important to be prepared for the speed of an investigation – the pace anticipated by food safety and public health disciplines can be significantly different. Public health will want to act on any suspicions of an outbreak as soon as possible, communicating widely to maximize awareness of precautions that can be taken even while the root cause is being established. Food safety needs more time to gather evidence of cause so that precise recommendations can be provided,” according to the report of the workshop.
Practical recommendations from the event included the creation of a framework of key steps in the investigation of a multi-national foodborne disease outbreak within the EU focusing on risk assessment and formation of dedicated multidisciplinary taskforces in outbreak investigations.
Participant suggestions to improve future training workshops included providing more opportunities to do risk and crisis communications; more exercise inputs that challenge social and digital media management; encouraging larger participation from each member state and achieving a better balance between scientific and communications tasks within the exercise.
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