Major topics around the world in 2021: ethylene oxide, impact of COVID-19, global epidemics
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A trio of issues that were on the 2020 news agenda have continued into 2021 and none of them are yet out of sight. The coronavirus, the UK’s exit from the European Union and the ethylene oxide contamination will certainly require coverage as 2022 approaches.
2021 also gave us a glimpse of how pathogens cross borders, Group B streptococcus in Hong Kong, edible insect developments and another year of major salmonella outbreaks in the UK.
1) Impact of COVID-19 measures on foodborne infections
Some research has been done and more is underway to analyze the impact of the pandemic on the reporting of foodborne illness. This was fully underlined by the report of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) on epidemics and diseases in 2020. Regular Food security news readers will have guessed the direction of the numbers from national statistics coverage, but the reported 47% decrease in epidemics and 61% drop in illnesses might even have surprised them.
An interesting point was that the agents causing serious diseases such as botulism or listeriosis did not decrease as much as noroviruses, for example, which are nasty but rarely fatal.
We now know that many measures, including reducing travel and closing restaurant businesses, are factors to consider, but more and more people were cooking at home, so the risk areas have changed. We’ll have to wait for the 2021 numbers, but I suspect that with more travel and online lab capacity they will increase. However, I would be surprised if we returned to the levels seen in 2019 before the pandemic.
2) A global world: international epidemics
During the past three quarters, events involving the International Network of Food Safety Authorities (INFOSAN) have increased. Are these better reports or more incidents? It depends on who you listen to, but we can agree that this year has seen epidemics involving Europe as well as the United States and Canada.
An outbreak of Salmonella Braenderup in several countries has affected more than 350 people and has been attributed to Galia melons in Honduras. Four people were sick in the United States and two in Canada, while most cases were from the United Kingdom and Europe.
Another example is the outbreak of different types of Salmonella linked to tahini and halva from Syria. The United States has reported six cases of Salmonella Mbandaka, one in 2020 and the remainder this year. Canada has eight confirmed cases: five of Salmonella Mbandaka, two of Salmonella Havana and one of Salmonella Orion from 2019 to 2021. In Europe, at least 121 people have been affected since January 2019. With increasing global trade and better technology to link infections, this multi-country aspect is something we may well see more of in the future.
3) Ethylene oxide incident
The number of recalls and withdrawals due to ethylene oxide in products must now number in the thousands, if not tens of thousands. Belgium first alerted in September 2020 regarding sesame seeds from India. It was then found in additives, notably locust bean gum (E410). The use of ethylene oxide to disinfect foodstuffs is not permitted in Europe. While it was initially aimed at controlling Salmonella, some believe that the examples of contamination could be due to the fact that it is also applied to disinfect warehouses and transport containers.
The European Union has already toughened the rules and will go even further from January 2022 to include ethylene oxide controls on imports of xanthan and guar gum, spices and some other products. We have seen that not all countries in the EU are happy with the general recall approach and this has caused legal problems, but the long shelf life of the products and the wide range of potentially affected foods mean that it’s hard to find the right balance.
4) Salmonella outbreaks in the UK
Now that the UK has left the EU – we’ll get to that in a minute – outbreaks are not covered in so much detail in the aforementioned EFSA and ECDC report and the latest national figures published in 2017. From the puzzle, we are once again shining the spotlight on Salmonella, as was the case with the 2020 roundup.
We have the 139 Salmonella Enteritidis infections in 2021 as part of the nearly 900 cases linked to animal owners handling frozen foster mice from 2014. The Salmonella Infantis pig scratching epidemic with 534 sick people is considered to be the most important of this type of Salmonella ever reported. in Europe. Despite the Tayto Group recall and the shutdown of production at the plant, illnesses were still reported months later.
The UK was the worst affected country with over 100 patients confirmed in the melon outbreak referenced above and two strains of Salmonella Enteritidis in frozen, raw and breaded chicken products from Poland caused over 500 illnesses since January 2020 and one death.
5) UK leaves the EU
There are many aspects to the fact that the UK is no longer an EU Member State, such as worker issues and loss of access to systems such as the Rapid Alert System for Foods and animal feed (RASFF).
One of the goals of Brexit is for the UK to delay border checks for food from the EU. Controls on some EU imports, including fish, have been postponed to November 2022. They have already been postponed three times. The EU has put in place controls on similar items exported from Britain from January 2021.
Certification and physical checks of high-risk animal by-products, all meat and meat products, and high-risk non-animal foods are scheduled to begin in July 2022, with checks on dairy products to be started. from September and all other animal products. origin including composites and peach from November, according to the Institute of Export and International Trade.
The need to notify the Animal and Plant Health Agency or the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in advance of sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) imports from the EU, using the system Importation of Products, Animals, Food and Feed (IPAFFS), comes into force on January 1, 2022.
6) Update of the EU surveillance system
A new online portal launched for European public health authorities is designed to collect, analyze, share and discuss disease data for threat detection, surveillance, risk assessment and outbreak response.
The European Infectious Disease Surveillance Portal (EpiPulse) was launched in June 2021 and integrates several surveillance systems such as The European Surveillance System (TESSy) and the five Epidemic Intelligence Information System (EPIS) platforms including the one on diseases of food and water origin. It is only open to designated experts.
By June 2022, the common European database is expected to be operational between EFSA’s whole genome sequencing database with isolates from food products and ECDC’s database with human clinical isolates.
seven) Group B streptococcus in Hong Kong
Hong Kong has reported an outbreak of Group B streptococcus linked to handling fish with some cases belonging to sequence type 283 (ST283). It’s the same type that affected up to 150 people in Singapore in 2015 by eating raw freshwater fish. Invasive GBS disease was not known to be foodborne prior to this incident. Nearly 20 infections were reported in July 2020 but the source has not been traced. Cases of invasive GBS ST283 have also been recorded in China, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Thailand and Vietnam, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
8) Edible insects
The EU is about to put house crickets on the novel food list, adding the insect to those approved as food. It is the third insect to be registered, after the migratory locust and the yellow meal. Novel foods are anything that was not consumed to a large extent in the EU before May 1997. There are also nine applications for insects, which are under evaluation by the European Food Safety Authority. (EFSA).
This growing list raises many questions about the supply chain, including security. Hazards can be biological, including bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites; chemicals, including mycotoxins, pesticides, heavy metals and antimicrobials; or physical. As part of this resolution, FAO published an overview of food safety issues that could be associated with edible insects. Maybe in the future we will give some storage, cooking and leftover tips for grasshoppers instead of chicken?
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