It was a mixed year which saw many multi-country, multi-year outbreaks raise their head again but for some of them, 2018 marked the year they were solved.
The year also brought regulation changes, updated standards, trade disputes and action based on past issues. Below are some of the most important food safety events this year.
Salmonella outbreak linked to Polish eggs since 2012
More than 1,400 cases are associated with this outbreak that has gone on for more than six years and affected 18 countries. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) also expects additional infections with symptom onset dates in recent months because of reporting delays. So, expect further coverage of this issue in 2019.
Investigations identified eggs from Poland as the vehicle of infections in the multi-strain outbreak. Control measures in 2016 and 2017 did have a temporary impact, but new outbreak cases were notified in 2017 and 2018.
In November, the European Commission said no measures against Poland were envisioned “for the time being.” An EU audit of Polish controls this year reported mixed findings. Official tests found more Salmonella than sampling by companies, but control programs were in line with EU requirements.
Ban on formaldehyde as a feed additive in Europe
Formaldehyde has been used as a hygiene condition enhancer to decontaminate Salmonella in feed for pigs and poultry. The ban imposed this year was based on health concerns for those working with the substance. Experts believe this is one factor behind the Salmonella issue in Poland.
New edition of ISO 22000 published
The revision of 2005 requirements means organizations already certified to it have three years from date of publication in June 2018 to transition to the new version. Thousands of companies follow the standard. ISO 22000:2018 “Food safety management systems – Requirements for any organization in the food chain” is the culmination of several years in the standard development process.
It includes a different approach to understanding risk, clarifies the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle and describes differences between key terms such as: Critical Control Points (CCPs), Operational Prerequisite Programmes (OPRPs) and Prerequisite Programmes (PRPs).
After Carne Fraca – Brazilian poultry imports into Europe
Fallout from federal police raids on meat factories in Brazil in 2017 continued through 2018. Operation Weak Flesh followed a two-year fraud investigation. The fraud involved bribery of health inspectors and false laboratory results supporting certification of meat products exported to the European Union.
The EU banned imports from 20 Brazilian poultry and beef plants, most of them owned by BRF, this year following an audit of the control system in the country. The restrictions due to Salmonella were raised twice at World Trade Organization meetings by Brazil in 2018 but measures by the EU have not yet been lifted.
Creation of EU crisis network
A Crisis Coordinators Network was created by the European Commission to improve management of food safety incidents. The idea of one contact point in each of the 28 EU member states came about in meetings following a fipronil incident in 2017.
Crisis coordinators shall hold meetings at least annually. After every occasion when a crisis unit is set up, the Commission will produce a report including a post-incident assessment.
The network was used for the first time in the Listeria outbreak from frozen vegetables produced by Greenyard in Hungary that sickened 54 people in six countries with 10 deaths from 2015. They also met a second time in 2018 at the European Commission’s initiative.
Needles in Aussie strawberries
A women was arrested in November, accused of putting sewing needles in strawberries in Australia. The 50-year-old, My Ut Trinh, was a former strawberry farm worker. Trinh has been released on bail. She could face up to 10 years in jail if convicted. She was charged with seven counts of contamination of goods but hundreds of incidents were reported which raised concerns about copycats and false reports. Contaminated packs were found across the country in September. The tampering affected three brands – Berry Obsession, Berry Licious and Donnybrook – and the scare spread to New Zealand.
Listeria in salmon from Poland
European authorities went public on an outbreak of Listeria linked to salmon in October. Denmark, Germany and France were part of the outbreak with 12 cases and four deaths. The first case was recorded in October 2015 and the most recent in May 2018. The outbreak was identified through whole genome sequencing (WGS) analysis. The salmon was processed in Poland by BK Salmon but was reared in Norway.
Salmonella Goldcoast in pig meat from the Netherlands
At least 19 people in the Netherlands are part of an ongoing Salmonella Goldcoast outbreak suspected to be caused by pig meat. The Dutch Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) found the source of contamination of pork at a pig slaughterhouse. It involves pork sold from June 4 through Oct. 24.
An alert on the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) shows distribution included more than 35 countries. There have been no reports in other countries of infection with Salmonella Goldcoast matching the Dutch strain, but numerous product recalls have been issued.
The European Commission said the contamination was likely because of lowering the water temperature from 68 Celsius (154 F) to 48 degrees Celsius (118 F), creating conditions for bacteria development. The slaughterhouse has reinstated the 68 degrees temperature.
EU Hepatitis A outbreak with link to Morocco
European authorities are continuing to investigate more than 60 hepatitis A infections reported by eight EU countries. Cases in Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom are infected with one of two HAV genotype IA strains.
Both HAV strains have historically been associated with Morocco. However, many 2018 cases do not have a travel history to the country. The ECDC suggested in May that foodborne transmission could be associated with a single food product distributed in several EU countries, but there has been no update since then.
Cyclospora in people returning from Mexico
For the fourth successive year cases of Cyclospora cayetanensis infection were reported in travelers returning to the United Kingdom from Mexico. Almost 60 cases of Cyclospora parasite infections had been reported in England, Scotland and Wales by August, of which 46 were diagnosed after patients had travelled to Mexico.
Cases stayed at several different hotels in the Cancun and Riviera Maya region, mostly on an all-inclusive basis, suggesting the source was probably a foodstuff distributed to hotels throughout the region. Nearly 80 cases have been reported in the UK in 2017, of which 37 travelled to Mexico. A similar outbreak in 2016 involved 443 UK cases.
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