Five European food safety agencies have met to practice response to an emergency food safety incident.

The Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) of Germany, Economic and Food Safety Authority (ASAE) in Portugal, Spanish Agency for Consumer Affairs, Food Safety and Nutrition (AECOSAN), UK Food Standards Agency and Food Safety Authority of Ireland came together in Berlin earlier this month.

The event was organized by the Joint Initiative Food Emergency Exercise (JIFEE) working group of the Heads of Food Safety Agencies (HoA) with funding from the Better Training for Safer Food (BTSF) initiative.

The simulated scenario was a Listeria monocytogenes outbreak in frozen berries from a third country.

Representatives from the European Commission (DG SANTE), European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, European Food Safety Authority and Czech Republic were also present.

Photo courtesy of BVL

The aim was to use a foodborne outbreak to review the opportunities and performance of member states and EU authorities at jointly coordinating such crises. Focus was on the measures taken and effectiveness of the information flow between authorities involved.

The exercise showed countries had different structures for managing a foodborne outbreak from decisions initially made at regional level in Spain and Germany to all action taken at a national level in the other member states. In some countries, health and food safety protocols for management of emergencies were not sufficiently coordinated.

It found full and timely communication between the authorities involved is key to successful crisis management. Lessons learned will be used to optimize crisis preparedness at the member state and European level.

Earlier this year, EFSA, ECDC, the Austrian Health and Food Security Agency (AGES) and German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) held a workshop on preparedness for a multi‐national food safety and public health incident.

The HoA was also involved in the EU Presidency Conference “Food Borne Outbreak – Cross Border Outbreak Investigation” on Oct. 8 and the meeting of Heads of European Food Safety Agencies on Oct. 9 in Vienna.

Meanwhile, EFSA experts and officials from the State Food and Veterinary Service (VMVT) of Lithuania met in the country this week (Oct. 16) as part of a conference on zoonoses.

Participants were given examples of good practice in implementing Salmonella control programs and shared experiences on how to achieve and maintain low levels of the pathogen. The event also looked at Campylobacter which is a problem in Lithuania as it is in other European countries.

Fictional E. coli outbreak
In a different exercise, tackling the spread of an infection resistant to antibiotics was put to attendees at the G20 Health Ministerial Meeting in Mar del Plata, Argentina earlier this month.

The governments of the United Kingdom and Argentina led the fictional scenario where an E. coli outbreak resistant to antibiotics spreads across borders, putting public health, livestock, trade and travel at risk.

“Superbugs do not recognize borders and our response must not be constrained by them either,” said Steve Brine, public health minister.

The exercise raised awareness and understanding of the key challenges of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) including inappropriate use and misuse of antibiotics in humans and animals.

Speaking before the event, chief medical officer for England, Professor Dame Sally Davies, said it will strengthen understanding of the risk of drug-resistant infections.

“Antimicrobial resistance is an escalating global threat that demands action from all countries – world leaders must co-ordinate efforts to address this ‘one health’ challenge.”

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