Irish food authority tackles cryptosporidium
producers on how to prevent and limit the effects of a
cryptosporidium outbreak from water contamination.
The guidance was produced following recent cryptosporidium water contamination incidents in the country and aims to help food businesses protect customers' health. Dr Wayne Anderson, the FSAI's chief of specialist food science, said that food business operators are legally responsible for producing safe food so they should ensure that only safe water is used for food production and preparation. The guidance notes that drinking water contaminated with cryptosporidium has caused large outbreaks of cryptosporidiosis. However cryptosporidium can also be spread by eating contaminated food. About Cryptosporidium Cryptosporidium is a microscopic parasite that causes cryptosporidiosis, a form of gastroenteritis that can be serious for children, the elderly, pregnant women and people who are ill. Watery diarrhoea is the most common symptom. According to the FSAI there were 605 cases of cryptosporidiosis reported in Ireland in 2007 compared with 367 cases the year before. The FSAI notes that this increase is primarily due to an outbreak that took place in Galway and "shows how a single outbreak can significantly compromise peoples' health" Contamination by water The guidance explains that when animals or humans are infected with cryptosporidium they pass large numbers of oocytes in their faeces. These might make their way into drinking water if the water treatment plant is not working properly or is overwhelmed. Prevention According to FSAI, EC regulation 178/2002 demands that food processors be able to trace all substances incorporated into food during all stages of production, processing and distribution. So food businesses must know where their water supply comes from and how it is used. Dr Anderson noted that most food businesses get their water from public supplies and advises that they access data on the quality of these supplies from their local authority and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Companies taking their water from a private source are directly responsible for ensuring the safety of the water so should regularly test the water to ensure that it meets all regulatory requirements. "If water used in the food business is not safe, then the food business operator must take the necessary remedial action", said Dr Anderson The guidance notes that the EPA has produced a risk screening methodology to assist local authorities in prioritising supplies that are at higher risk of cryptosporidium, which also identifies high risk factors that can be mitigated to reduce the risk of contamination. When an outbreak threatens / occurs A threatened or actual outbreak can have serious implications for food manufacturers using large volumes of drinking water. The main recommendations included in the guidance include: Food companies should determine when the water contamination was likely to have occurred so they can identify which foods might have been prepared using contaminated water. Contaminated food might need to be disposed of, withdrawn or recalled. In order to help facilitate this, businesses should prepare water distribution plans to track the use and distribution of water ahead of an incident. Any contaminated food that has entered the food chain needs to be reported to the competent authority. Food business operators should identify processes in their operation for which the water must first be boiled or otherwise treated to remove or inactive cryptosporidium, for instance for the preparation of salad. Boiled water can be stored in a fridge for up to 48 hours. If boiling is not practical, filtration or ultraviolet radiation solutions might be considered. Businesses should ensure that staff practice personal hygiene and understand their responsibility to produce safe food.