Parasites in food

Parasites are organisms that derive nourishment and protection from other living organisms known as hosts. When found in food, they can cause diseases in humans. In the European Union (EU), over 2,500 human cases of food-borne parasitic infections are reported each year.

To protect consumers from this public health threat, the EU has adopted an integrated approach to food safety from the farm to the fork. The approach consists of both risk assessment and risk management measures involving all key actors: EU Member States, European Commission, European Parliament, EFSA and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). The approach is supported by timely and effective risk communication activities.

EFSA plays an important role in protecting consumers from this public health threat by providing independent scientific support and advice on the human health and food safety-related aspects of parasites in food.

Some parasites, such as Trichinella, Toxoplasma and Giardia can be directly or indirectly transmitted between animals and humans through the consumption of contaminated food or drinking water. Health effects of food-borne parasitic infections vary greatly depending on the type of parasite ranging from mild discomfort to debilitating illness and possibly death. Parasites can also be transmitted to humans or other animals through other means such as by vectors. Safe handling of food and good kitchen hygiene can prevent or reduce the risk posed by contaminated foodstuffs.   

The European Food Safety Authority provides independent scientific advice and scientific assistance through the collection and analysis of data on the prevalence of parasites in the food chain as well as by assessing the risks posed by these parasites and advising on possible control and mitigation options.
EFSA’s findings are used by risk managers in the EU and the Member States to help inform policy, and to support the setting of possible control options for parasites in the food chain.

Annual monitoring of parasites in animals and food

EU-wide data on the presence of parasites in the food chain as well as the prevalence of animal and human infection are collected and analysed in annual EU Summary Reports prepared by EFSA and ECDC. The monitoring data are used with other information to evaluate the progress made in EU Member States in reducing the prevalence of these parasites.

Risk assessments and recommendations

EFSA’s Panel on Biological Hazards evaluates the food safety risks of parasitesand provides scientific advice on control options at the request of risk managers or on its own initiative. EFSA’s Panel on Biological Hazards has among others evaluated parasites in fishery products.

The monitoring and control of food-borne diseases as well as food hygiene requirements and food safety criteria are regulated by EU legislation. For details on the regulatory framework, see the topic on Food-borne zoonotic diseases.