The International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN) worked on fewer incidents in the final three months of 2020 compared to the previous quarter.

During the fourth quarter (4Q) of this past year, INFOSAN was involved in 23 food safety events compared to 37 in July through September and 29 in the second quarter of 2020. In total, the network was engaged in 127 events in 2020 compared to 84 in 2019.

In 4Q 2020, 11 incidents involved a biological hazard, with Salmonella five times, Listeria monocytogenes and E. coli both twice, and Rotavirus and Clostridium botulinum both once.

Six were because of chemical hazards such as histamine, ethylene oxide, hydrogen peroxide, methanol and an unspecified chemical solvent. Three other incidents involved an undeclared milk, mustard or peanut allergen and another three were related to metal or bone fragments as a physical hazard.

Milk and dairy products was the food category most mentioned. It was listed in seven of the 23 incidents from October through December 2020.

Other categories involved were herbs, spices and condiments, fish and other seafood, fruit products, nuts and oilseeds, snacks, desserts, and other foods, alcoholic beverages, cereal-based products, meat products and items for special nutritional use.

2020 reflection
INFOSAN is managed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.

In 2020, the number of notifications coming directly from members or members via the European Commission contact point increased from 84 percent in 2019 to 87 percent in 2020. This means information about these food safety incidents is being exchanged faster than those events detected through other types of event-based surveillance such as media monitoring, according to officials. Faster provision of information means national authorities are able to act quicker to apply risk management measures and protect consumers from potentially unsafe food.

Member states with a registered INFOSAN Emergency Contact Point has increased by six from 172 in 2019 to 178 out of 194 in 2020.

The average number of days between requests by the secretariat for information about food safety incidents and it being provided by INFOSAN members was five days in 2020. This is quicker than the historical average of seven days, but not yet at the target of three days in the strategic plan.

Recent activities
In October, INFOSAN supported a virtual capacity building workshop on rapid response during food safety crises, run by the National Agency of Drug and Food Control in Indonesia. Network members and food safety professionals from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries attended.

In November, INFOSAN, the African Union, and the FAO and WHO regional offices for Africa, hosted training webinars on strengthening national and international food safety networks and response systems.

In the same month, INFOSAN supported a training webinar for member states in Europe and Central Asia with regional counterparts at FAO and WHO.

In December, INFOSAN, the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), and FAO Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean held the seventh regional meeting of INFOSAN members in the Americas, hosted virtually by Argentina.

Officials from Guyana spoke about their efforts to coordinate food safety activities across sectors and between agencies at the national level and reflected on a recent emergency communication simulation exercise. INFOSAN members from Argentina, Brazil, Canada and the United States shared their experiences on COVID-19 and super-spreader incidents in the food sector and described impacts on the food chain.

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