Experts in Belgium have taken part in an exercise to improve management of foodborne outbreaks in the country.

The event, coordinated this past month by Sciensano, the national public health institute, covered a fictional Salmonella outbreak.

The simulated exercise was developed by the One Health European Joint Program (OH-EJP), the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

Practice from actual outbreak
About 30 representatives of organizations that play a role in the management of such outbreaks in Belgium met for two days to follow step by step a fake, but realistic, national salmonellosis incident.

It involved SPF Santé publique, the Agency for Care and Health (Zorg en Gezondheid) and the Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain (FASFC).

The meeting covered data exchange to quickly detect the source of the outbreak and take action. Attention also was given to clear and uniform communication.

“During the exercise, it became clear that each partner knows their own role, as well as that of the others and the collaboration, is going well. The partners have already worked very effectively together earlier this year during the real outbreak of salmonellosis in a chocolate factory in Arlon,” said Jorgen Stassijns, crisis coordinator at Sciensano.

“The exercise allowed participants to understand that using a shared digital platform for data exchange and communication can further improve collaboration. The importance of systematically assembling an outbreak management team was also highlighted.”

The real outbreak caused by monophasic Salmonella Typhimurium from Ferrero’s Kinder chocolate sickened more than 450 people between December 2021 and June 2022. Operations at the plant were suspended in April but restarted in September.

At least one training exercise takes place every year involving simulation of an incident or a crisis situation with participation of the European Commission, EFSA and national authorities.

African example
Such workshops also occur in other countries. In March and April this year, the Veterinary Services agency in Côte d’Ivoire organized a national simulation exercise to improve the handling of a foodborne outbreak.

It was part of the process to strengthen the response of the Veterinary Services and other stakeholders in the event of an outbreak of collective food poisoning in the country.

The event aimed to boost the coordination of stakeholders in response to food poisoning of animal origin, test response capacities, clarify the roles and responsibilities of the different actors during a crisis and make recommendations to close gaps and respond effectively to a foodborne illness.

Forty professionals participated including administrative staff of the Direction of Veterinary Services, the General Directorate of Health, the National Laboratory of Support to Agricultural Development, the Veterinary Service of the Armed Forces, and local authorities.

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