Climate change may increase foodborne illness

By Caroline SCOTT-THOMAS contact

- Last updated on GMT

Changing precipitation patterns and temperatures could affect food safety through many different pathways - but to what extent is unknown
Changing precipitation patterns and temperatures could affect food safety through many different pathways - but to what extent is unknown
Problems with food security have previously been linked to climate change – but it may also affect food safety and the incidence of foodborne illness, according to a new study.

Published in Food Research International​, the study’s authors say the field of science examining climate change and food safety is only just emerging, but evidence is mounting to suggest foodborne illness may increase as temperatures rise and precipitation patterns change. Particular risk areas include impacts on pest distribution, mould growth and mycotoxin production, harmful algal blooms in relation to shellfish, and temperature sensitivity of contact between food and pest species.

“Climate change is expected to challenge the effectiveness of current food safety management systems in the near future,”​ they wrote. “…Climate and weather events play an important role in the presence of pathogens as warmer ambient temperature in combination with differences in eating behaviour may contribute to the foodborne portion of the increased incidence of enteric diseases.”

Veg-i-Trade, an EU-funded research project looking at the link between climate change and foodborne illness, is a leading source of information in this area. The project has concluded that the pre-harvest stage of food production holds the greatest risk for contamination with pathogens like Salmonella and E. coli, as later stages in the chain such as transportation, storage and processing are generally carried out in controlled environments.

“Whether climate change increases their prevalence depends on the resulting local balance of the positive and negative impacts, but the contamination risks are likely to increase,” ​wrote the study’s authors, in reference to the Veg-i-Trade results.

In addition, the project predicts greater use of pesticides due to climate change, as plant pests may develop differently and plant susceptibility to pests may change.

The researchers wrote that the ways in which climate change could impact food safety through many different pathways were generally understood.

“But quantification of these relationships, for instance for evidence in impact assessments and to get a feel for the future situation and what future generations need to adapt to, is thus far lacking,”​ they said.

“Field studies and statistical and scenario analyses are required to provide the evidence. Adaptation strategies at the local company and community levels are essential, since the pressures from extreme weather events can differ per company, sector and country.”


Source: Food Research International

Vol. 68, pp. 1-6, doi:10.1016/j.foodres.2014.09.001

“Special issue on the impacts of climate change on food safety”

Authors: Mieke Uyttendaele, Cheng Liu, Nynke Hofstra

Related topics: Food Outbreaks

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