An international food safety network was involved in more than double the number of incidents in the first three months of this year compared to the previous quarter.

The International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN) dealt with 56 events in early 2021 compared to 23 in the fourth quarter of 2020. The network is managed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.

The latest figures are the highest from any quarter in previous years. INFOSAN reported that this increased activity is likely due to more reporting of food safety issues associated with undeclared allergens and ingredients; a rising awareness of risks to public health; and efforts following the second global meeting in 2019 that strengthened member states’ engagement with the network.

Listeria takes lead from Salmonella
Half of the incidents in 1Q of 2021 involved a biological hazard with 10 because of Listeria monocytogenes followed by nine because of Salmonella, E. coli four times, two each for Clostridium botulinum and Norovirus and one each for Hepatitis A virus and Vibrio vulnificus.

Milk and dairy products were behind seven Listeria events, followed by meat products with two and one because of fish and other seafood. Products were distributed to member states from all WHO regions and 70 percent were reported to the secretariat by RASFF and the rest by INFOSAN members.

Chemical hazards were mainly because of histamine but also included ethylene oxide, pyrrolizidine alkaloids, malachite green, hydrocyanic acid and extractable cyanide.

Nine events involved an undeclared allergen or ingredient such as egg, peanut, milk, mustard, soy or lactose. Seven physical hazard incidents were because of glass and metal.

Fish and seafood was the food type most mentioned. It was listed in 15 of the 56 incidents from January through March 2021 followed by milk and dairy products nine times.

Other categories mentioned more than once were herbs, spices and condiments, meat and meat products, snacks, desserts, and other foods, food additives, fruit and fruit products, nuts and oilseeds, vegetables and vegetable products, drinking water, and sugar and confectioneries.

Future work
In April and May 2021, virtual workshops were organized with Morocco and Senegal. The aim is to strengthen participation of INFOSAN members; and do a simulation exercise to test the food safety emergency response plan in Senegal.

A workshop involving remote and physical parts is planned with Cameroon with help from the FAO. The goal will be to familiarize members in Cameroon with the type of information requested and exchanged through INFOSAN during an international food safety emergency, and to strengthen activities related to emergency response.

A recent working group in March featuring members most frequently involved in events focused on food fraud and authenticity. It looked at case studies, regulatory regimes and jurisdictions of members, identification, priorities and surveillance, and the impact of COVID-19. Outputs will be summarized and shared with INFOSAN members in 2Q 2021.

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