Guidelines for reporting of foodborne outbreaks to the European Union have been updated to use the same dataset for strong and weak evidence-based reports.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said information from all foodborne outbreaks is collected and the same dataset used for strong and weak evidence outbreaks.
The second update ensures the distinction between ‘strong’ and ’weak evidence’ outbreaks, based on findings implicating a particular food vehicle, is maintained.
Prior plausibility does not constitute sufficient evidence to implicate a food vehicle for policy making and evidence supported in this way should always be deemed ‘weak’ at EU level, said the report.
However, it may be valuable in informing immediate control measures at local or member state level.
European Union Foodborne Outbreak Reporting System (EU-FORS) was based to report 2010, 2011 and 2012 data.
Member states suggested that it would be helpful to provide the more detailed dataset on foodborne outbreaks supported by weak evidence when reporting specifications.
“Those foodborne outbreaks where either no particular food vehicle is suspected/identified or where the evidence implicating a particular food vehicle is weak could be of little value in informing EU policies on food safety,” said the report.
“However…weak evidence can be valuable in informing immediate control measures at a local level and would be of interest to other member states.”
It is important to address the relevance of different food categories as outbreak vehicles and the causative agents most frequently associated with these food vehicles.
This includes the number of outbreaks per causative agent and of human cases, hospitalisations, and deaths.
Strong epidemiological evidence includes statistical associations in analytical epidemiological studies or convincing descriptive evidence.
Product-tracing includes investigating the movement of a food product and its constituents through the stages of production, processing, and distribution.
It may provide strong or weak evidence depending on the investigation, said the report.
Microbiological evidence includes the detection of the causative agent in the food vehicle or its component, and detection in the food chain or from preparation or processing environment.
Microbiological evidence has to be combined with detection of the causative agent from the human cases or symptoms that are pathognomonic to the causative agent.
Descriptive environmental evidence alone is almost invariably weak.
The Zoonoses Directive requires MSs to collect, evaluate and report data on zoonoses, zoonotic agents, antimicrobial resistance and foodborne outbreaks every year.
Member states should report outbreaks in which all cases or a significant proportion are believed to have acquired their infection/intoxication from food.
Source: EFSA Journal 2014
Online, doi: 10.2903/j.efsa.2014.3598
“Update of the technical specifications for harmonised reporting of food-borne outbreaks through the European Union reporting system in accordance with Directive 2003/99/EC”