GLOBAL – The International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN) has taken center stage in safeguarding global food safety, as revealed by its recently released 2020–2021 Activity Report.

The report indicates that the INFOSAN Secretariat responded to a staggering 375 international food safety events during this period, nearly doubling the number of incidents compared to 2018–2019.

This surge represents the highest number of responses since the network’s inception in 2004.

INFOSAN, a collaborative effort between the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), serves as a vital connection between authorities in various countries to reinforce both national and international food safety systems.

The INFOSAN Secretariat plays a pivotal role during food safety events by facilitating communication among FAO/WHO Member States.

It encourages the sharing of critical information related to implicated products and their distribution, enabling the swift identification of sources behind foodborne illness outbreaks.

This surge in INFOSAN Secretariat responses is attributed to several factors, including heightened awareness of food safety risks, capacity-building activities, increased reporting of food safety concerns, and collaborative efforts through webinars and workshops with FAO and WHO Member States.

The COVID-19 pandemic, coinciding with this reporting period, has further motivated Member States to fortify their food safety systems, promoting international collaboration for emergency response and risk communication, especially regarding internationally distributed food.

Common culprits, implicated foods

Biological hazards remained the primary cause of food safety events, comprising 57 percent (212 out of 375) of incidents.

Undeclared allergens, physical, and chemical hazards followed, contributing 17 percent, 13 percent, and 11 percent of food safety events, respectively. A small number of incidents remained attributed to unknown hazards.

Within biological hazards, Salmonella emerged as the most prevalent cause of food safety events, responsible for 41 percent of incidents, followed by Listeria monocytogenes (25 percent), Escherichia coli (8 percent), and Clostridium (7 percent).

Among the implicated food categories, fish and other seafood accounted for 17 percent, followed by milk and dairy products (10 percent), meat and meat products (10 percent), and snacks and desserts (9 percent). These findings underline the widespread nature of food safety challenges across multiple regions.

The INFOSAN network exhibited its global reach, with the majority of the 375 events involving Member States in the European Region (68 percent).

Other regions significantly impacted included the Western Pacific Region (27 percent), the Region of the Americas (27 percent), the African Region (23 percent), the Eastern Mediterranean Region (16 percent), and the Southeast Asia Region (9 percent).

Major outbreak responses

The Activity Report highlights two major outbreaks in 2020–2021 linked to the consumption of enoki mushrooms from the Republic of Korea in 2020 and Galia melons from Honduras in 2021.

INFOSAN played a pivotal role in facilitating international collaboration among the affected countries to identify the sources of these outbreaks, share investigation information, and implement risk mitigation measures.

The INFOSAN Secretariat conducted workshops to strengthen national capacities in six countries, collaborated with FAO/WHO Food Safety Regional Advisors to organize Regional Meetings for INFOSAN members across different regions, and actively participated in World Food Safety Day in 2020 and 2021 through various activities and webinars.

Responding to increased requests for workshops, webinars, and training from Member States, the INFOSAN Secretariat launched a “Train-the-Trainer” program in collaboration with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).

This program selected and trained 12 INFOSAN Ambassadors from 12 different countries to support INFOSAN’s work during workshops and trainings, covering topics such as INFOSAN roles and responsibilities, international foodborne illness outbreak investigations, and food safety emergency response.

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