Experts will discuss updates to the WHO’s strategy for food safety later this month.

The international organization’s Technical Advisory Group (TAG) on Food Safety is scheduled to meet virtually for the first time from Feb. 8 to 10. Attendance is reserved for group members and invited observers.

The World Health Organization (WHO) published a food safety strategy in 2002. The update is planned for 2022. It is expected a draft of the strategy ready for public comment will be published after the meeting.

Strategy direction
Members of the TAG include Annie Locas, from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency; William R. Jones of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration; Jørgen Schlundt, an independent consultant; Paul Cook, at the Food Standards Agency; and Yongning Wu of the National Centre for Food Safety Risk Assessment in China.

The previous strategy highlighted a risk-based approach to food safety, surveillance of foodborne illnesses, uptake of international food safety standards set by Codex, safety assessment of new technologies, risk communication, international cooperation, and capacity building.

The new plan has a focus on strengthening national food safety and food control systems by considering all components and prioritizing actions that are likely to have the greatest impact on reducing the burden of foodborne illnesses.

In February 2019 in Addis Ababa, the WHO was a partner at the First FAO and African Union International Food Safety Conference. Two months later, the WTO International Forum on Food Safety and Trade met in Geneva. The FAO is part of the United Nations.

A World Health Assembly resolution called “Strengthening efforts on food safety” was endorsed by member states in July 2020.

The WHO is also updating estimates on the global burden of foodborne diseases with a report planned by 2025. An analysis published in 2015 found foodborne infections caused 600 million illnesses and 420,000 deaths in 2010.

Listeria meeting conclusions
Meanwhile, a virtual meeting of the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Meetings on Microbiological Risk Assessment (JEMRA) on Listeria monocytogenes in ready-to-eat (RTE) food was held recently.

JEMRA published two documents covering Listeria in 2004. The meeting reviewed recent data on Listeria monocytogenes and determined if there was a need to modify, update or develop new risk assessment models and tools.

Scientists identified several critical gaps in the current FAO/WHO risk assessment model and agreed that an update would be valuable to inform risk analysis strategies, including in low and middle income countries.

Specialists recommended that future risk assessments should review groupings of susceptible populations, based on physiological risks and other socio-economic factors.

Documents from 2004 were limited to certain RTE foods such as pasteurized milk, ice cream, cold-smoked fish and fermented meats linked to invasive listeriosis. The expert group said future risk assessments should consider other food vehicles and that a full farm-to-fork risk assessment needs to be considered.

They also reported the development and implementation of effective surveillance systems are critical to controlling Listeria monocytogenes and use of approved standardized laboratory methods to culture and isolate strains should be the foundation.

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