An international food safety entity responded to more than 80 incidents over a two-year period, according to a report.

The International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN) was involved in 84 international food safety events during 2016 and 2017. The network is managed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Biological hazards were responsible for most INFOSAN events, the main reason being Salmonella spp. (21 times). There were 58 incidents involving a biological hazard, 12 with a chemical danger, seven involving an unspecified hazard, four concerning a physical one and three for undeclared allergens (almond twice and egg once).

Other biological hazards included Clostridium spp., Listeria monocytogenes, E. coli, Hepatitis A virus, Norovirus, Bacillus spp., Campylobacter, Anisakis, Brucella spp., Cronobacter sakazakii, Cyclospora cayetanensis and Vibrio spp.

Chemical hazard events involved excess amounts of heavy metals, aflatoxin, fipronil, histamine, methanol, Oxyphenylbutazone, paralytic shellfish toxin and phosphate. Physical hazards involved glass, plastic, metal and packaging material.

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Incidents most commonly involved fish and other seafood, accounting for 20 of them. Next were  meat/meat products and vegetables/vegetable items, which each had seven incidents. Milk and dairy products were implicated in six incidents.

Last year, INFOSAN was involved in at least 64 food safety reports including the Salmonella agona outbreak linked to Lactalis infant formula made in France and a Listeria outbreak from frozen vegetables produced by Greenyard in Hungary.

The average time the INFOSAN Secretariat remained engaged with an event in 2016 and 2017 was 28 days, with a minimum of one day and maximum of 169 days, compared to 22 days during 2014 and 2015.

More than 80 percent of all WHO member states have an INFOSAN emergency contact point, an increase of 13 percent during 2016 and 2017. The largest gains have been in Africa and the Americas.

Most notifications were reported to the INFOSAN Secretariat by WHO headquarters event-based surveillance, followed by an INFOSAN emergency contact or focal point. Others were made by WHO staff from regional offices in Europe, the Americas, Africa and Western Pacific, the RASFF European Commission contact point or European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

“While the proportion of event notifications coming directly from INFOSAN emergency contact points or focal points increased compared to previous years, there is still room for improvement. Delays in reporting food safety events means that unsafe food can remain in the market, available to consumers for purchase, and can result in preventable foodborne illnesses in multiple countries,” according to the report.

INFOSAN was involved in an outbreak of Salmonella Anatum with at least 28 cases in February 2016 in Australia. Pre-packaged lettuce that was also exported to four other countries caused the outbreak.

The network was also involved in speculation of fake rice. After a report in November 2016, the INFOSAN emergency contact point in Singapore confirmed the rice was not artificial but the branding was counterfeit.

Another report in December 2016 saw the INFOSAN emergency contact point in Nigeria indicate that test results showed implicated rice was not made of plastic or artificial. However, final investigations found the product was not fit for consumption due to high coliform levels. In January 2017, rumors emerged in Canada. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) sampled and tested rice associated with complaints and did not find any issue.

In August 2017, the network was involved in the fipronil incident which involved eggs from European farms contaminated with the insecticide. Countries outside Europe also received contaminated egg products including Hong Kong, Lebanon, Liberia, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia and South Africa.

Authorities in the Republic of Korea reported that eggs from numerous farms in the country tested positive for fipronil contamination. Authorities in Taiwan, China also discovered domestically contaminated eggs from a number of local producers following the control and sampling of all egg producing farms. The findings indicated treating poultry and the poultry environment with disinfectants containing fipronil may not be limited to a few farms Europe.

In June 2016, Canada started to directly notify recalls to INFOSAN members when the food being recalled in the country is known to have entered international trade. Australia implemented a similar procedure to send direct notifications to INFOSAN emergency contacts points for all food recalls when the affected product either originated from another country or was exported from Australia.

The report said if all countries adopted such practices, communication within INFOSAN would be accelerated, allowing members to more swiftly implement risk management measures and prevent foodborne illness.

To strengthen national capacities, INFOSAN was part of workshops in Bangladesh, Bhutan, Mexico and Nepal that focused on building links between national food safety agencies to address emergency response. Limitations in basic surveillance capacity to detect foodborne diseases and food safety events still persist in many countries, according to the network.

INFOSAN was also involved in activities organized by the Community of Portuguese language Countries (CPlP), the European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) Emerging Risks Exchange Network (EREN), the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and the African Union Food Safety Management Coordination Mechanism (AUFSMCM).

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