EFSA signs 4-year project to combat ciguatoxin food poisoning

By Jenny Eagle

- Last updated on GMT

The source of the German outbreak in 2013 was red snapper fillets.
The source of the German outbreak in 2013 was red snapper fillets.

Related tags Ciguatera Foodborne illness Food safety

A total of 13 organizations from six Member States have joined forces with EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) to address ciguatoxin food poisoning.

Representatives of Spain and EFSA signed a Framework Partnership Agreement on April 19 to carry out a four-year project on risk characterisation of ciguatera food poisoning in Europe.

Gastrointestinal & neurological effects

Ciguatoxin is found in fish that feed on a microorganism that produces the toxic substance.

Consumers eating affected fish can suffer from symptoms including gastrointestinal and neurological effects.

Since 2008, Spain and Portugal have reported outbreaks of ciguatoxin food poisoning in the Canary Islands and Madeira. New findings suggest the microorganism is becoming more widespread in the Mediterranean.

Ana Canals, representative for Spain on EFSA’s Advisory Forum, said the project co-ordinators have a common goal of investigating the risk of ciguatera food poisoning.

We think it is a great goal, putting together all these scientists to work on a common problem​,” she said.

Ciguatera food poisoning is a foodborne disease that was derived mainly from the inter-tropical areas; the Pacific, the ocean and the Indian oceans. It was described there as an intoxication caused by the consumption of fish, which is an accumulation of a bio toxin called ciguatera, present on a microorganism on algae​.

It is becoming a problem at European union level. We had several cases which started in 2008 in the Canary Islands and up to today we have seen 14 outbreaks of the disease and also in Madeira in Portugal​.”

Four specific agreements

The partnership will include four specific agreements; overall project coordination; epidemiology, looking at each specific case; data collection on occurrence – sampling of the fish and micro algae and development of analytical methodology.

Felipa Melo Vasconcelos, Economic and Food Safety Authority of Portugal (ASAE), added the focus of its participation is to develop and set up an external communication plan, as an important tool to solving the problem.

FoodQualityNews reported on the first outbreak of ciguatoxin poisoning​ from fish in Germany in 2013.

It stated at the time, one of the biggest challenges is there is no standard test for the poison, partly because it causes poisoning in extremely low concentrations. In addition, different chemical structures of ciguatoxins are known, which can vary by location.

German authorities reported a total of 14 cases of such poisoning.

Ciguatoxin is generated by metabolites produced from algae, belonging to the species dinoflagellates, which originate from coral reefs of subtropical and tropical marine areas of the Caribbean, and the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

Once consumed by fish they accumulate and enter the food chain. "Ciguatoxin poisoning is one of the most common types of fish poisoning worldwide"​, said professor Andreas Hensel, president of German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR).

Initial symptoms include nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. Most people also later suffer from extremely unpleasant sensations such as burning, tingling and pain on contact with cold. Feelings of numbness in the hands and feet, weakness and muscle pain and hot and cold flushes can also occur. These symptoms can persist for months.

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