The number of incidents involving a global food safety network increased slightly in the second quarter of this year.

The International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN) was part of 53 alerts from April to June 2023, up from 47 in January to March.

Of 32 biological hazard incidents, a dozen were due to Salmonella and six because of Listeria monocytogenes. E. coli, Clostridium, and Hepatitis A virus caused three each, norovirus was mentioned twice, and Bacillus cereus, mold, and Streptococcus agalactiae (also called Group B Streptococcus) were all behind one event.

Five chemical hazards featured cadmium, cyanide, methanol, patulin, and solanine, an alkaloid. Ten alerts involved an undeclared allergen or ingredient, and four were due to physical hazards such as metal, glass, and wood.

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

Food categories commonly part of incidents were vegetables and vegetable products, fruit and fruit products, meat and meat products, and composite foods.

Herbs, spices, and condiments; milk and dairy products; nuts and oilseeds; snacks, desserts, and other foods; sugar and confectionery; alcohol; egg and egg products; fish and other seafood; legumes and pulses; and products for particular nutritional use were also mentioned in alerts.

Slightly more than a third of notices were reported by INFOSAN Emergency Contact Points and Focal Points. Almost 30 percent were communicated through the European Commission’s Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) and 37 percent via other WHO channels.

Hepatitis A in berries case
INFOSAN was part of several incidents involving frozen berries because of the detection of hepatitis A.

One of these involved illnesses in the United States linked to fruit products from Mexico. INFOSAN requested information on risk management measures and if there was international distribution.

Mexican authorities shared the progress of their investigations, which included work with agencies in the U.S. doing on-the-ground inspections and sample collection. Checks found that no businesses in Mexico were processing the suspected product and sending it to an operator in the U.S. No freezing of products was identified in Mexican facilities. From samples collected, there were no positives for hepatitis A virus. Mexican officials also said there was no epidemiological information on cases in the area where production of berries occurred.

American authorities confirmed 10 cases linked to the implicated products in four states. The strain is identical to the one that caused an outbreak in 2022 linked to fresh organic strawberries from Mexico. The outbreak was recently declared over.

In May, an introductory webinar for Pacific Island countries was held to raise awareness about how INFOSAN operates during food safety emergencies and promote cooperation among authorities in the region. A similar online session was held for different national agencies in Central America.

Workshops in Egypt and Iraq were held with help from the WHO Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean. Another workshop took place on World Food Safety Day with authorities in Jordan.

In July, a meeting with support from the WHO Regional Office for Africa was held in Koudougou, Burkina Faso, to strengthen the national capacities of INFOSAN members. It resulted in a national roadmap for 2024. Workshops also took place with officials in Mali, Namibia, and Liberia.

Simulation exercises provided practical insights when handling complex food safety emergencies. They involved fictitious scenarios of outbreaks related to internationally distributed items.

In recent decades, the significance of agriculture in rural areas has reduced while food imports have increased in Central Asian nations. An event on the rapid exchange of information during incidents took place with representatives from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. FAO and WHO were asked to provide technical support and resources to support these efforts.

Two-year summary
INFOSAN has also recently published its activity report for 2020 to 2021. INFOSAN responded to 375 events in these two years compared to 162 in 2018 and 2019. It included 248 alerts in 2021 and 127 in 2020.

Global emergency response activities may have increased because of greater awareness of food safety risks, better reporting of issues, more vital collaboration with partners or increased capacity at national or INFOSAN secretariat level, according to the report.

Biological hazards were responsible for most incidents, often due to Salmonella, followed by undeclared allergens and physical and chemical hazards. The top implicated food category was fish and other seafood, followed by milk and dairy, meat and meat products, and snacks and desserts.

Two significant outbreaks highlighted involved Listeria in Enoki mushrooms from Korea in 2020 and Salmonella in Galia melons from Honduras in 2021.

“In addition to facilitating the communication and exchange of information between food safety authorities of countries involved in the trade of the food concerned, the INFOSAN secretariat has carried out some capacity-building initiatives to strengthen national inter-agency coordination and notifications to INFOSAN and supported competent authorities to exchange experiences in operating in pandemic-related lockdown conditions,” said Eleonora Dupouy, FAO food safety officer.

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