EU One Health Report Indicates Foodborne Illnesses Down During Pandemic
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) recently published their annual One Health Zoonoses report for 2020. A notable finding of the report was a 47% reduction in foodborne disease outbreaks compared to 2019. Across all diseases reported, the authors noted decreases from 7% to 53%. The effect of the COVID-19 pandemic was cited by experts as a large contributor to the drops seen. Possible reasons for the decrease included changes in health care-seeking behaviour, travel and event restrictions, quarantine/lockdowns, and other COVID-19 mitigation efforts like mask-wearing and hand washing
The report monitors both zoonotic diseases and foodborne illnesses. Salmonella was the most frequently implicated agent in foodborne outbreaks with 694 outbreaks resulting in 3,686 cases which represented 22.5% of all outbreaks. Salmonella-related illnesses also accounted for the highest amount of hospitalizations, being responsible for 48.5%. Public catering and restaurants were still the main sources of outbreaks, Despite the overall decrease being attributed in part to the pandemic.
The report compiled data from 27 EU members in addition to Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein. It is noted that the departure of England from the EU may have also impacted the numbers.
FDA Announces Foodborne Outbreak Response Improvement Plan (FORIP)
The FDA recently announced the Foodborne Outbreak Response Improvement Plan (FORIP). The plan is designed to improve the speed, effectiveness, coordination, and communication for foodborne disease outbreak investigations. The FDA has put forth this plan after identifying a need to improve the speed and streamline investigations so that outbreaks can be identified faster and contaminated products can be removed from markets in a more timely fashion. The plan was put together with input from the USDA FSIS, CDC, state health officials, industry, and consumer foodborne outbreak experts. In addition, a contracted independent report from the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health was vital in forming the plan.
The plan focuses on four priority areas, which they believe will have the largest impacts. These areas are:
Tech-enabled product traceback - improving the way data from consumer purchases is collected and working toward increased digitization of the process.
Root cause investigations - systematize this process so that information can be collected and distributed more efficiently.
Strengthen analysis and dissemination of data - Facilitate improvements for the sharing of CDC, the USDA’s FSIS, and other partners to improve outbreak responses.
Operational improvements - work on performance measures to better evaluate outbreak responses.
In their announcement of the improvement plan, the FDA acknowledged that the food supply in the United States is large and decentralized, which contributes to the difficulty in data collection and outbreak response. The FDA’s goals center around the need for improving investigations by taking advantage of newer data collection and agent identification technologies (such as whole-genome sequencing) to pinpoint and remove contaminated items from the market in a more expeditious way.
Pork Products Recalled
The USDA FSIS announced on December 5th that Alexander & Hornung, of St. Clair Shores, MI and a subsidiary of Perdue Premium Meat Company is recalling 234,391 pounds of pork products due to possible contamination with Listeria monocytogenes. The products being included in the recall are fully cooked ham and pepperoni. They include both branded products and private label products. FSIS was notified of the problem by Alexander & Hornung after product sampling reported positive results.
In a statement Alexander & Hornung state “While there have been no illnesses or complaints associated with the products and there is no conclusive evidence that the products were contaminated at the time of shipment, the voluntary recall is being initiated out of an abundance of caution.” FSIS is concerned that products may have already made their way to people's refrigerators or freezers and urges consumers who have purchased the products in question to throw them away or return them to the point of purchase.
Listeria can cause serious, potentially fatal infections. While the CDC estimates that only 1,600 people a year are infected with listeriosis, the hospitalization rate is in excess of 90% and approximately 260 people die per year from the infection. The most common source for listeria infections from contaminated food. Unlike most other contaminants, listeria is able to grow and multiply in low temperatures, and the infectious dose is thought to be low in at-risk populations. Therefore, the FSIS maintains a zero-tolerance policy for the pathogen in Ready-To-Eat products.
The Alexander & Hornung pork recall has expanded from 234,391 pounds of products to approximately 2.3 million pounds with an expanded list of products. More information is available in the updated USDA announcement.