The European Food Safety Authority, together with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, has updated, for a second time, the technical specifications for harmonised reporting of food-borne outbreaks through the European Union reporting system, in accordance with Directive 2003/99/EC. This update takes into account the need for revisions originating from implementing the first updated reporting specifications for 2010, 2011 and 2012 data.
The second update proposes that the distinction between ‘strong-’ and ’weak-evidence’ food-borne outbreaks, based on the evidence implicating a particular food vehicle, is maintained. Member States should report all food-borne outbreaks that meet the definition laid down by Directive 2003/99/EC.
The same dataset is used for food-borne outbreaks where no particular food vehicle is suspected and for food-borne outbreaks where the evidence implicating a particular food vehicle is either weak or strong. This dataset includes the number of outbreaks, as well as the number of human cases, hospitalisations and deaths, per causative agent. In addition, other information can be reported including data on causative agents, food vehicles, and the factors in food preparation and handling that contributed to the food-borne outbreaks. Member States can also report information on the nature of the evidence supporting the suspicion of the food vehicle. This evidence can be epidemiological, microbiological, descriptive environmental, or based on product tracing investigations.
Strong epidemiological evidence includes statistical associations in well-conducted 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. Microbiological evidence includes the detection of the causative agent in the food vehicle or its component, and the detection of the causative agent in the food chain or from the preparation or processing environment. Microbiological evidence has always to be combined with detection of the causative agent from the human cases or symptoms in the human cases that are pathognomonic to the causative agent. Descriptive environmental evidence alone is almost invariably weak.
The information to be reported was selected due to its relevance at the European Union level and whether this information can be analysed at a supra-national level. Specifically, 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. Waterborne outbreaks should be analysed separately from the other food-borne outbreaks. Also, the analyses of the circumstances that contributed to the occurrence of food-borne outbreaks and the trends in the reported outbreaks over the years are relevant at the European Union level.