The World Health Organization (WHO) is to create a network to help countries with surveillance of foodborne diseases.

The first meeting of the WHO Alliance for Food Safety is scheduled in Geneva, Switzerland, in May with support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Disease (DFWED).

The WHO Global Strategy for Food Safety 2022 to 2030 was adopted at the World Health Assembly in May 2022. Countries committed to advance food safety through five priorities and adopted targets to guide action and track progress toward reducing foodborne infections.

For one of the indicators — Multisectoral collaboration mechanism for food safety events — the International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN) will be the platform to build capacity and ensure reporting. INFOSAN was created in 2004 and has more than 800 members in 187 nations.

However, for the indicator called ‘Surveillance of foodborne diseases and contamination” there is no similar structure to align efforts and support countries. This indicator uses the International Health Regulations Joint External Evaluation tool. As of 2022, the score stood at 1.5 and the aim by 2030 is a global average capacity score of 3.5.

Help from collaborating centers network
WHO looked at reactivating the Global Foodborne Infections Network (GFN) as well as tapping into its network of collaborating centers. These are institutions such as research institutes, parts of universities or academies, which are designated to carry out activities in support of WHO programs. 

Between 2000 and 2015, GFN served as a capacity-building network of institutions and individuals working in veterinary, food and public health trying to enhance the capacity of countries to detect, control and prevent foodborne and other enteric infections. GFN promoted integrated, laboratory-based surveillance and outbreak detection and response, and helped collaboration and communication among microbiologists and epidemiologists in human health, veterinary, and food-related disciplines.

More than 20 collaborating centers were identified as having terms of reference related to areas of the food safety strategy. An analysis of work plans revealed it was necessary to better align their capacity building activities with the targets of the WHO Global Strategy for Food Safety. Examples of such centers are the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), Singapore Food Agency, Institut Pasteur, and Technical University of Denmark.

WHO and DFWED are holding the meeting to create the food safety alliance including setting terms of reference and identifying its value in foodborne disease surveillance. The aim is to include WHO Collaborating Centers and other institutions to support the implementation of the strategy in the area of foodborne disease surveillance.

The WHO Foodborne Disease Burden Epidemiology Reference Group (FERG) is also in the process of updating estimates of the global, regional, and national burden of foodborne diseases by 2025. The first figures were published in 2015.

World Food Safety Day theme
Meanwhile, the theme for this year’s World Food Safety Day has been revealed as: “Food safety — prepare for the unexpected.”

The campaign will explore unexpected food safety incidents, which can range from a power cut at home to an international food safety alert or outbreak, and how people can better prepare for such events to ensure access to safe food.

The sixth World Food Safety Day will take place on June 7. This year also marks the 20th anniversary of INFOSAN.

Corinna Hawkes, FAO’s director of the agrifood systems and food safety division, and Francesco Branca, WHO’s director of the department of nutrition and food safety, said unexpected food safety incidents can range from mild events to major crises but there is always something that can be done to keep food safe.

“Anticipating the kinds of events that might occur, whether it be a natural disaster like flooding, or a volcano eruption or a power outage can ensure the risk to food safety is minimized. And at home, consumers’ food safety knowledge can avert problems in unexpected situations,” they said.

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