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Areas of action to prevent foodborne illness identified at BfR conference

By Joe Whitworth , 27-Nov-2012

A panel of scientists have identified hygiene, diagnostic methods and outbreak investigations as key areas that need action to prevent foodborne infections.

The experts identified a need for action in terms of hygiene measures, the development of diagnostic methods, improvement of instruments to investigate national outbreaks and extension of the zoonosis monitoring programme.

Around 200 scientists met at the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) to talk about how to prevent foodborne infections earlier this month.

They concluded consumer education, hygiene and monitoring in the food chain is crucial and scientific insights need to be usable and related control measures continuously adjusted.

Diagnostic method progress

The BfR said progress is being made in the development of diagnostic methods for detecting pathogens but this brings new challenges.

"Analysing the entire genome of a pathogen is now easy technically, and it provides detailed knowledge of the properties of the pathogens and genetic mutations.

"At the same time, however, these analytical tools also raise questions regarding the interpretation of the generated data.

"For example, pathogens are capable of changing their properties or to establish themselves in other habitats such as plants. This means that the methods used for diagnostics and epidemiology must be constantly improved further and adapted to suit specific problems. "

Data recording

Extended possibilities of data recording and management and developing simulation methods could lead to improved and quicker risk assessment.

"The new epidemiological and diagnostic possibilities continually improve the process of assigning infections to a source and assessing the risk posed by specific pathogens.

"A basic requirement for this is the current overview of the frequency and properties of pathogens in various food chains as provided by the zoonosis monitoring programme.“

Supply chain central

The safety watchdog identified supply chain analysis as central for explaning foodborne outbreaks.

"The combination of diagnostics in highly specialised laboratories and IT-assisted epidemiological investigations of the type available at the BfR play an important role when trying to find the causes of outbreaks.

"In view of the complex transport routes and trade relations, a need for improved instruments for the purpose of retracing ingredients has been identified, however. "

Norovirus being found on frozen strawberries and last year, EHEC in raw sprouts in Germany have alerted the public to the significance of illnesses transmitted via food.

"Although we are observing a decrease in the number of cases of food-borne infections, we must nevertheless continue work to ensure consistent and effective zoonosis control", said Professor Dr. Andreas Hensel, president of the BfR.

(Register here for free access to the first ever online event  devoted to Operational Efficiency in food and beverage processing, taking place on November 29, organized by our sister site FoodProductionDaily.com and William Reed Business Media.)

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