A food safety barometer in Belgium has found improvements in the country during the past decade.

The purpose is to measure food safety and enable evidence-based risk management and policy decisions. It consists of 30 indicators that cover various aspects of food safety from farm to fork.

It relies on data collected from the Belgian Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain (FASFC) control programs and the National Reference Center for Disease data. Indicators are expressed as positive or negative changes compared to the previous year and compared to a reference year to assess long-term progress.

Barometer benefits
The indicators describe the presence of chemical and microbial hazards, inspection outcomes, compliance of food businesses’ self-checking, zoonotic agents, and the number of reported foodborne outbreaks. They are weighted based on their importance and displayed as percentages. However, the weight assigned to each indicator is based on expert opinion and not risk assessment.

The method has been used for over a decade and helps show stakeholders, consumers, and trade partners the state of food safety in Belgium.

It enables trend analyses and provides insights into the food safety system. However, the dynamic nature of the food chain means a flexible system is needed to adapt to risks and incorporate new indicators.

By 2021, the barometer results increased by 25.3 percent compared to the reference year of 2010, according to FASFC, also known as AFSCA and FAVV.

Involving stakeholders representing the whole food chain was a strength in terms of participation and getting the best knowledge, but a challenge because of the different emphasis on food safety risks.

FASFC said interpretation of results can be difficult. The number of foodborne outbreaks highlights this issue: a low number of outbreaks can be due to a good food safety situation or a poor reporting system, as well as external constraints such as measures implemented in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The agency also warned that inconsistent procedures may lead to biased results, hampering the development of control strategies.

Upcoming meetings
Meanwhile, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have organized a workshop on the use of whole genome sequencing (WGS) in water and foodborne disease outbreaks in Peru this week.

Presentations will highlight the benefits and potential drawbacks of WGS, and discussions will focus on summarizing the state of technology implementation at the global level and options for using WGS for food safety in Peru.

The workshop is a closed meeting with invited government officials, public health professionals, researchers, and stakeholders involved in food safety, water, and foodborne disease surveillance and response. A report on the event will be published in the future.

Another workshop, in Bogota, Colombia, from Feb. 12 to 16, will focus on the prevention and control of Campylobacter.

The event is for professionals from the PulseNet Latin America and Caribbean Network (PNALC). It is in response to increased Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) cases in Peru from 2018 to 2023 and reinforced genomic surveillance of Campylobacter.

On the same dates, a second meeting on foodborne viruses is held in Geneva, Switzerland.

In 2022, a Codex committee asked for scientific advice from the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Meetings on Microbiological Risk Assessment (JEMRA) as part of work to update guidelines on controlling viruses in food. The document covers all foods, focusing on ready-to-eat food, Hepatitis A, and norovirus.

FAO and WHO held an initial meeting to work on food attribution, analytical methods, and indicators of viruses in foods in September 2023.

The second meeting will gather and evaluate recent data, evidence, and scientific opinions on the prevention and intervention measures and the efficacy of interventions in the food chain for foodborne viruses. 

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