The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) has organized two events dealing with microbial risks and antimicrobial resistance this month.

The first symposium presented the latest research on food-associated viruses and the other focused on antimicrobial resistance in the food chain.

The number of foodborne diseases caused by viruses is increasing, according to the BfR.

“Hepatitis E, for instance, is transmitted via foods produced from infected domestic and wild pigs. Cases of foodborne infections with noroviruses and hepatitis A viruses are also on the rise.”

A European Reference Laboratory (EURL) was set up for foodborne viruses as their significance grew. It is currently held by Livsmedelsverket (National Food Agency, Sweden).

“Even though the detection methods for viruses in foods have improved considerably in recent years, there is still a need for comprehensive research on how these viruses are transmitted and which measures can prevent their spread,” added the BfR.

The event on food-associated viruses was the fourth run by the BfR with this topic also being covered in 2009, 2012 and 2015. It looked at the epidemiological situation of individual virus infections, novel detection methods and opportunities for improved hygiene.

The symposium was held in German but translated to English. Speakers included Dr. Magnus Simonsson, of the EURL for foodborne viruses; Dr. Mirko Faber, from Robert Koch-Institut and Prof. Dr. Reimar Johne, BfR.

BfR president, Professor Dr. Andreas Hensel, said microbial risks are now part of public awareness.

“Our current representative population survey, the BfR Consumer Monitor, showed that 97 percent of respondents have heard of Salmonella in foods and 89 percent about antimicrobial resistance, with the majority of them stating that they are concerned about these topics. However, everyone is in a position to minimize personal health risks by assuring an adequate level of kitchen hygiene,” he said.

Attendees of the second symposium heard there has been a decrease in the use of antibiotics in livestock farming in recent years. BfR is the National Reference Laboratory for antimicrobial resistance.

Since 2011 records have been kept of the quantities of antimicrobial veterinary drugs sold to veterinarians. These rates have decreased by 57 percent from 1,706 tons in 2011 to around 733 tons in 2017 despite an increase in meat production.

During the same period, there was a reduction in antimicrobial resistance in several bacteria in the food chain. A study from 2009 to 2016 showed that, with regard to naturally occurring E. coli in chicken and turkey production, the proportion of bacteria resistant to the majority of the antibiotics tested dropped significantly.

Active substance classes administered to livestock frequently and/or in large quantities show a diminishing trend in the quantities used as well as the resistance rates of E. coli. However, resistance rates are still high in both poultry production chains.

Resistance to the antibiotic group of fluoroquinolones has risen in some bacterial species, according to the BfR.

Speakers for this event included Julia Klöckner, Federal Minister of Food and Agriculture (BMEL); Prof. Dr. Uwe Rösler of the Freie Universität Berlin and Prof. Dr. Guido Werner from the Robert Koch-Institut.

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