Salmonella has been knocked off the top spot by Listeria monocytogenes as the main hazard dealt with by an international food safety network.

During the fourth quarter of 2019, the International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN) was involved in four incidents involving Listeria out of 15 concerning 44 countries, according to a recent report.

Salmonella was tied for second with E. coli while other outbreaks from October to December 2019 featured norovirus and Clostridium botulinum. One issue each concerned glass and plastic fragments. INFOSAN was part of 83 events this past year which is the same as 2018. The 83 food safety incidents is one less than the network had to deal with during 2016 and 2017 combined.

Salmonella had been the top hazard since INFOSAN first started producing quarterly summaries in January to March 2018 when Listeria was the main problem.

Food categories most commonly involved in 4Q 2019 were meat and meat products, fish and other seafood, herbs, spices and condiments, milk and dairy products, alcoholic beverages, composite foods, fruit and fruit products, nuts and oilseeds, and vegetables and vegetable products.

Focus on E. coli O157 and romaine lettuce
The network is managed by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and World Health Organization (WHO).

In 4Q 2019, an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 infections in the United States linked to romaine lettuce grown in Salinas, California, was reported to INFOSAN. Federal officials recently declared the outbreak over with 167 people infected from 27 states.

Following suspension in Hong Kong of import and sale of romaine lettuce from the U.S., INFOSAN worked with its Emergency Contact Points (ECP) to see if there were any illnesses in the country linked to romaine products.

Speaking in November, a spokesman for the Centre for Food Safety in Hong Kong, said the agency had instructed the importer, Wing Kee Produce Ltd., to stop sales and recall the affected product.

“The CFS’ follow-up investigations found that the importer had also sold several other kinds of the affected products produced in the area concerned. In addition, the center found that another importer, City Super Limited, had also imported several kinds of the affected products.”

Colleagues in the U.S. shared whole genome sequence information to assist with identification of international cases. It was later confirmed that no E. coli O157:H7 infections were documented in Hong Kong and no other reports of illnesses outside the U.S. were forwarded to INFOSAN.

In November 2019, media in Taiwan reported the Food and Drug Administration would require a safety certificate for all imports of romaine lettuce from the U.S. for one month due to the outbreak linked to some California romaine.

The Ministry of Health in Trinidad and Tobago, Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs in Barbados and National Agricultural Research and Extension Institute in Guyana all advised consumers not to use romaine lettuce from Salinas, CA.

In Jamaica, a ban was imposed on imports of romaine lettuce in November 2018 which was still in place at the end of November 2019, according to the Plant Quarantine and Produce Inspection Branch of the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture, and Fisheries.

Second meeting of network
In December, the WHO, FAO and Abu Dhabi Agriculture and Food Safety Authority, organized the second INFOSAN meeting, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

Picture courtesy of Abu Dhabi Agriculture and Food Safety Authority

The meeting brought together 250 representatives from more than 130 countries to discuss the progress and challenges faced by the network over the past 15 years.

Alan Reilly, INFOSAN advisory group member and Professor at University College Dublin, Ireland, said the network has had success in bringing some outbreaks of global foodborne illness to a conclusion.

“Regions and countries can work together, share information and protect consumer health by using the platform of INFOSAN.”

On the first day, attendees heard how INFOSAN has become global with a membership of 190 countries and 600 members.

The second day covered other regional networks such as the European Commission’s Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF), the Gulf Cooperation Council RASFF, the Arab RASFF, the Association for South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) RASFF, and European Food Safety Authority’s Emerging Risks Exchange Network (EREN).

“Artificial intelligence, machine learning and the use of big data will have a profound impact on food production, food control and outbreak investigation in the future and food safety managers need to prepare themselves,” said Peter Ben Embarek, INFOSAN Secretariat, WHO.

Cristina Baptista Rodrigues, INFOSAN ECP in Portugal, said the group was important to connect members with common interests from different countries.

“INFOSAN became a really important part of our work as we want to develop a connection between the food safety agencies in the Portuguese-speaking countries.”

Caroline Merten, INFOSAN advisory group member and scientific officer at the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), said suggestions were made for future development of the network.

“There is a huge potential for INFOSAN to develop further in the future…such as providing training and building closer collaboration and communication on non-emergency activities, such as surveillance activities and risk assessment activities at national levels.”

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