Zoonoses are infections or diseases that can be transmitted directly or indirectly between animals and humans, for instance by consuming contaminated foodstuffs or through contact with infected animals. The severity of these diseases in humans varies from mild symptoms to life-threatening conditions.
Food-borne zoonotic diseases are caused by consuming food or drinking water contaminated by pathogenic (disease-causing) micro-organisms such as bacteria and their toxins, viruses and parasites. They enter the body through the gastrointestinal tract where the first symptoms often occur. Many of these micro-organisms are commonly found in the intestines of healthy food-producing animals. The risks of contamination are present from farm to fork and require prevention and control throughout the food chain.
Food-borne zoonotic diseases are a significant and widespread global public health threat. In the European Union (EU), over 320,000 human cases are reported each year, but the real number is likely to be much higher.
To protect consumers from this food-borne zoonoses, the EU has adopted an integrated approach to food safety from the farm to the fork. The approach consists of both risk assessment (e.g. data collection, analysis, recommendations) and risk management (e.g. legislative measures, targets for reduction) measures involving all key actors; EU Member States, European Commission, European Parliament, EFSA, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and economic operators. The approach is supported by timely and effective risk communication activities. A coordinated approach by the EU and Member States helped to reduce human Salmonella cases by almost one-half over a five-year period (2004-2009), from 196,000 cases in 2004 to 108,000 cases in 2009.
How food becomes contaminated
Food can become contaminated at different stages of the food chain. These may include:
|At the farm||
|During further processing||
|In the kitchen||
Safe handling of raw meat and other raw food ingredients, thorough cooking and good kitchen hygiene can prevent or reduce the risk posed by these micro-organisms.
- Understanding Science video: What are food-borne zoonotic pathogens? Why are they important for public health?
- Fact sheet: EFSA explains zoonotic diseases - Food-borne zoonotic diseases
- Five keys to safer food – World Health Organisation (WHO)
Common food-borne diseases
Common micro-organisms that cause food-borne diseases are:
The infectious agent which causes Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) in cattle can also be transmitted to humans through consumption of contaminated meat causing variant Creuzfeldt-Jakob disease. Unlike other food-borne diseases which are spread by micro-organisms, BSE is caused by a prion, which is an abnormal form of a protein (known as PrPc).
- Topic: BSE