The European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) reports nearly one in three foodborne outbreaks in the EU in 2018 were caused by Salmonella. This is one of the main findings of the annual report on trends and sources of zoonoses published today by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).
In 2018, EU Member States reported 5,146 foodborne outbreaks affecting 48,365 people. A foodborne disease outbreak is an incident during which at least two people contract the same illness from the same contaminated food or drink.
Slovakia, Spain and Poland accounted for 67% of the 1,581 Salmonella outbreaks. These outbreaks were mainly linked to eggs.
“Findings from our latest Eurobarometer show that less than one third of European citizens rank food poisoning from bacteria among their top five concerns when it comes to food safety. The number of reported outbreaks suggests that there’s room for raising awareness among consumers as many foodborne illnesses are preventable by improving hygiene measures when handling and preparing food” said EFSA’s chief scientist Marta Hugas.
Salmonellosis was the second most commonly reported gastrointestinal infection in humans in the EU (91,857 cases reported), after campylobacteriosis (246,571).
Scientists are warning that eating too much flaxseed could cause cyanide poisoning.
Also known as linseed, it is rich in fibre, omega-3 fatty acids and micronutrients, and in the current trend is added to breakfast cereal or blended into smoothies.
But the seeds also contain a naturally occurring compound called amygdalin, a type of ‘cyanogenic glycoside’ that can produce cyanide gas as it degrades.
Scientists are warning that eating too much ground flaxseed could cause cyanide poisoning and adults could end up ill if they consume just three teaspoons of it in one sitting
Stephen Adams of the Daily Mail reports more cyanide is released if the flaxseed has been ground – a form in which it is commonly sold, as the seeds themselves are quite hard.
Now scientists at the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) have published a report warning that eating as little as a third of a teaspoon of ground flaxseed can be dangerous for a small child.
Adults could end up ill if they consume just three teaspoons of it at one sitting. Signs of cyanide poisoning include headache, confusion, agitation, irregular heart beat and trouble breathing. In severe cases, it can be lethal.
Long-term damage including neurological problems can result from repeated exposure.
As listeria continues it death stroll in South Africa, Australia, and before that, Canada, the European Food Safety Authority reports an outbreak of invasive Listeria monocytogenes (L. monocytogenes) infections defined by whole-genome sequencing (WGS) and probably linked to frozen corn has been ongoing in five EU Member States (Austria, Denmark, Finland, Sweden and the United Kingdom) since 2015.
As of 8 March 2018, 32 cases have been reported and six patients have died due to or with the infection. WGS analysis of six non-human L. monocytogenes isolates detected from 2016 to January 2018 in Austria, Finland, France and Sweden found these isolates closely related to the multi-country cluster of L. monocytogenes serogroup IVb, multi-locus sequence type 6 (ST6).
The non-human isolates were detected in two different samples from mixed frozen vegetables; three samples from frozen corn, and one sample from a surface where various vegetables could have been processed. The only common food item in all non-human samples was corn. The WGS analysis provides a strong microbiological link between the human and the non-human isolates and is suggestive of a potential contaminated food source related to frozen corn persisting in the food chain at least since 2016.
Traceability information for the three frozen corn samples pointed to frozen corn products packed in Poland and processed/produced in Hungary. Two additional non-human strains isolated in Austria from frozen vegetable mixes with corn as an ingredient were traced back to the same common origin in Hungary. Further investigations are needed to verify the point of contamination in the food chain.
Consumption of frozen corn has been confirmed by two patients, one in Finland and one in Sweden. In addition, a Danish patient reported consumption of mixed frozen vegetables, which could have included corn. The Finnish patient confirmed consumption of frozen corn of one suspected brand, supporting an epidemiological link between the outbreak cases and frozen corn. However, no traceability and microbiological information was available for the corn consumed by the Finnish and the Swedish patients.
Food business operators in Estonia, Finland, Poland and Sweden have withdrawn and recalled the implicated frozen corn products from the market. These measures are likely to significantly reduce the risk of human infections in these countries. However, new invasive listeriosis cases may be identified due to the long incubation period (1–70 days), long shelf-lives of frozen corn products and potential consumption of frozen corn bought by the customers before the recalls and eaten without being properly cooked. Furthermore, until the root source of contamination is established and control measures implemented, new cases may occur.
So where does frozen corn – one of my personal favorites – come from?
In 2001, long before barfblog.com or youtube, Chapman and I toured some farms and vegetable processing plants in Ontario (that’s in Canada) in 2001.
We more both amazed at the efforts involved in taking corn from the field to a frozen packaged state.
At the time we were wandering around combines in fields – something comfortable for me – and a dude said, we’re gonna sell 90-minute, non-GMO frozen corn in the EU./em>
That’s 90 minutes from harvest to the frozen bag.
I won’t go into the BS marketing aspects of this, but that they were able to pull it off was something to watch.
Intricate timing with the harvest, metal detectors, individually quick frozen (IQF) kernels and into a box to be bagger later.
I asked what the biggest microbial risks were, and the manager said, Listeria.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has developed a harmonised approach to assessing and taking account of uncertainties in food safety, and animal and plant health. This approach will boost the transparency of the resulting scientific advice and make it more robust for decision-making.
The EFSA Scientific Committee guidance on uncertainty in scientific assessments offers a diverse toolbox of scientific methods and technical tools for uncertainty analysis. It is sufficiently flexible to be implemented in such diverse areas as plant pests, microbiological hazards and chemical substances.
Prof Tony Hardy, Chair of the Scientific Committee said: “Since 2016, we have tested, refined and tailored our new approach to uncertainty analysis, benefiting from open consultations with EFSA’s partners and the wider public. Crucially, we learnt a great deal about how to apply the new approach by trialling it across all EFSA’s scientific areas of activity.
The approach is described in two separate documents: a short user-friendly (says who?) guidance with practical instructions and tips, and a supporting scientific opinion with all the detailed scientific reasoning and methods.
The long-term goal is that the new guidance on uncertainty will be an integral step in all EFSA’s scientific assessments.
Prof Hans Verhagen is head of EFSA’s department for risk assessment. He said: “The trial showed that in areas like plant health, an explicit uncertainty analysis is already being used, with positive feedback from risk managers who say this helps them with their decision-making. In other areas, where uncertainty analysis is not yet integrated in the assessment process, the testing phase has helped give a clearer idea how to develop tailored approaches.”
EFSA will implement the approach in two stages. In general scientific areas, the guidance will apply from autumn 2018 after the renewal of the Authority’s scientific panels.
In regulated products areas such as pesticides, food additives or food contact materials it will be phased in later on, in light of the experience gained in the ‘non-regulated’ areas.
In parallel, EFSA is developing practical guidance for communication specialists on how to communicate the results of uncertainty analysis to different target audiences, including the public. A public consultation will be held on a draft of the communication approach in 2018.
Others have been working on this for 40 years. When the goal is public health – so more people don’t barf – we already know it’s better to go public early and oftern.
Going public: Early disclosure of food risks for the benefit of public health
NEHA, Volume 79.7, Pages 8-14
Benjamin Chapman, Maria Sol Erdozaim, Douglas Powell
Often during an outbreak of foodborne illness, there are health officials who have data indicating that there is a risk prior to notifying the public. During the lag period between the first public health signal and some release of public information, there are decision makers who are weighing evidence with the impacts of going public. Multiple agencies and analysts have lamented that there is not a common playbook or decision tree for how public health agencies determine what information to release and when. Regularly, health authorities suggest that how and when public information is released is evaluated on a case-by-case basis without sharing the steps and criteria used to make decisions. Information provision on its own is not enough. Risk communication, to be effective and grounded in behavior theory, should provide control measure options for risk management decisions. There is no indication in the literature that consumers benefit from paternalistic protection decisions to guard against information overload. A review of the risk communication literature related to outbreaks, as well as case studies of actual incidents, are explored and a blueprint for health authorities to follow is provided.
Here’s an idea: don’t serve cold cuts and raw sprouts to old people.
The European Food Safety Authority reports that food safety criteria for Listeria monocytogenes in ready-to-eat (RTE) foods have been applied from 2006 onwards (Commission Regulation (EC) 2073/2005). Still, human invasive listeriosis was reported to increase over the period 2009–2013 in the European Union and European Economic Area (EU/EEA). Time series analysis for the 2008–2015 period in the EU/EEA indicated an increasing trend of the monthly notified incidence rate of confirmed human invasive listeriosis of the over 75 age groups and female age group between 25 and 44 years old (probably related to pregnancies).
A conceptual model was used to identify factors in the food chain as potential drivers for L. monocytogenes contamination of RTE foods and listeriosis. Factors were related to the host (i. population size of the elderly and/or susceptible people; ii. underlying condition rate), the food (iii. L. monocytogenes prevalence in RTE food at retail; iv. L. monocytogenes concentration in RTE food at retail; v. storage conditions after retail; vi. consumption), the national surveillance systems (vii. improved surveillance), and/or the bacterium (viii. virulence).
Factors considered likely to be responsible for the increasing trend in cases are the increased population size of the elderly and susceptible population except for the 25–44 female age group. For the increased incidence rates and cases, the likely factor is the increased proportion of susceptible persons in the age groups over 45 years old for both genders. Quantitative modelling suggests that more than 90% of invasive listeriosis is caused by ingestion of RTE food containing > 2,000 colony forming units (CFU)/g, and that one-third of cases are due to growth in the consumer phase. Awareness should be increased among stakeholders, especially in relation to susceptible risk groups. Innovative methodologies including whole genome sequencing (WGS) for strain identification and monitoring of trends are recommended.
TSEs are a group of diseases that affect the brain and nervous system of humans and animals. With the exception of Classical BSE, there is no scientific evidence that other TSEs can be transmitted to humans.
A low number of BSE cases in cattle were detected in EU Member States, none of which entered the food chain.
Some of the main findings of the report are:
Five cases of BSE in cattle have been reported in the EU, out of about 1.4 million animals tested.
641 cases of scrapie in sheep (out of 319,638 tested) and 1,052 in goats have been reported (out of 135,857 tested) in the EU.
This report provides results on data collected by all EU Member States, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland for 2015 on the occurrence of bovine spongiform encephalopathy
Cases have been reported by Belgium, Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the UK. In addition, Croatia reported a cluster of cases, including one death, possibly associated with this outbreak.
Whole genome sequencing, food and environmental investigations, and trace-back investigations established a link between the outbreak and an egg packing centre in Poland. Evidence suggests eggs as the most likely source of infection.
Polish competent authorities and Member States to which suspect eggs were distributed have now halted distribution.
To contain the outbreak and identify possible new cases promptly, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and EFSA recommend that EU Member States step up their monitoring.
Affected countries should continue sharing information on the epidemiological, microbiological and environmental investigations, including issuing relevant notifications using the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) and the Early Warning and Response System (EWRS), the latter representing the official channel to notify serious cross border threats to health.
The European Food Safety Authority says a special issue of the EFSA Journal presents the main outcomes of EFSA’s 2nd Scientific Conference “Shaping the Future of Food Safety, Together” held in Milan, on 14-16 October 2015.
The event was a unique opportunity for stakeholders in Europe’s food regulatory system – policy makers, risk assessors, scientists and NGOs – to identify future challenges for food safety risk assessment in Europe. Over 1000 delegates came together in what proved to be a stimulating and insightful debate on global food safety concerns. The discussions covered an impressive range of topics and provided inspiration for EFSA’s Strategy 2020. The conclusions will help EFSA and the wider risk assessment community to chart a course in food safety risk assessment in the coming years.
The special issue of the EFSA Journal reflects the conference’s three plenary and nine parallel sessions and is accompanied by a Foreword from EFSA’s Executive Director, Bernhard Url.
All the conference material that was published on the conference’s dedicated microsite will be archived on EFSA’s website. This includes the programme, webcasts, recordings and video clips which will continue to be publicly available and linked to the special issue of the EFSA Journal.
EFSA had previously advised on the implications for meat safety if two parameters – time and temperature – varied and provided several scenarios for ensuring safety of meat during storage and transport of meat. The Commission subsequently asked EFSA to consider what implications such scenarios would have for the growth of bacteria that cause meat to spoil.
“If the sole consideration was safety, policy makers would have more options on the table to pick from. However, scenarios that are acceptable in terms of safety may not be acceptable in terms of quality,” said Dr. Marta Hugas, Head of EFSA’s Biological Hazards and Contaminants unit.
Current legislation requires that carcasses are chilled to no more than 7C and that this temperature is maintained until mincing. The European Commission wants to revise this legislation to provide industry with more flexibility and asked EFSA’s scientific advice on safety and quality aspects.
Experts also said that effective hygienic measures during slaughter and processing help control contamination with spoilage bacteria.