Update of the technical specifications for harmonised reporting of food-borne outbreaks through the European Union reporting system in accordance with Directive 2003/99/EC

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Article
European Food Safety Authority
EFSA Journal
EFSA Journal 2014;12(3):3598 [25 pp.].
doi
10.2903/j.efsa.2014.3598
Acknowledgements

EFSA wishes to thank the members of the EFSA Scientific Network for Zoonoses Monitoring Data for endorsement of this report. Members of the Working Group on the Revision of reporting specifications for food-borne outbreaks in the EU: Bob Adak, John Cowden, Gilles Delmas, Katelijne Dierick, Celine Gossner, Darina O’Flanagan, Lone Jannok Porsbo and Dirk Werber, are also gratefully acknowledged for the preparatory work on this scientific output and EFSA staff: Pia Mäkelä, Valentina Rizzi and Roisin Rooney for the support provided to this scientific output.

Type
Scientific Report of EFSA
On request from
EFSA
Question Number
EFSA-Q-2013-00095
Approved
25 February 2014
Published
17 March 2014
Affiliation
European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), Parma, Italy
Note
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Abstract

In the analyses of the reported data on food-borne outbreaks at the European Union level 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. This report includes an update of the technical specifications for harmonised reporting of food-borne outbreaks to the European Union, to allow for the better achievement of their objectives. Member States shall report all food-borne outbreaks which meet the definition in the Directive 2003/99/EC. A distinction has been made between food-borne outbreaks supported by ‘weak’ evidence and those supported by ‘strong’ evidence, based on the strength of evidence implicating a particular food vehicle. The same dataset is used for both weak- and strong-evidence outbreaks. This includes the number of outbreaks per causative agent, and the number of human cases, hospitalisations, and deaths. In addition, other information can be reported by Member States, including the nature of the evidence supporting the suspicion of implicated food vehicles and data on the causative agents, food vehicles, and the factors in food preparation and handling that contributed to the food-borne outbreaks.

Summary

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.

Keywords
food-borne outbreak, reporting system, causative agent, food vehicle, strength of evidence
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Number of Pages
25