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Data standardisation in tracing activities

In foodborne disease outbreaks, rapid identification of the causative food product is essential to minimise the effects on public health and the economy. Recent foodborne disease outbreaks in Europe have demonstrated that there is a need for a software system that can support investigations into supply chains as well as exposure assessments in crises. During food or feed incidents EFSA may be requested by the European Commission to assist with tracing analyses.

Currently, traceability information on the food chain and contamination is provided and continuously updated by Members States via the iRASFF system in an unstructured format. EFSA extracts the relevant information from iRASFF notifications to analyse the food supply chain.

Data standardisation in the exchange of tracing information would ensure a prompt response in emergencies and enable the re-use of data in future incidents.

Current research projects funded by EFSA focus on developing free and open-source tracing software for different purposes and connecting those tools within a decentralised European tracing workflow. Interoperability between the tools will be achieved via standardisation of tracing information through the “Universal Traceability data eXchange” format (UTX). The recommendations on how to include tracing information in the FoodEx2 system will also be developed. This will make the exchange of information on foodborne incidents faster and more reliable. In addition, the workload for investigation of incidents will be distributed among Member States, avoiding duplication of effort.

Specifically, these projects aim to:

  • Facilitate faster and more reliable exchange and analysis of tracing data by connecting national and European tracing tools within a European tracing tool workflow.
  • Define a UTX format to standardise tracing information and enable interoperability between tracing tools.
  • Provide a recommendation on how to include tracing information in the FoodEx2 system to facilitate further standardisation of tracing information. It will further enrich the UTX.
  • Complement the European tracing tool workflow by developing an open, accessible, easy to use data collection tool within the R4EU platform to collect and report tracing data and to extract relevant information for tracing from iRASFF notifications.
  • The tool will be made available to local and national authorities via the R4EU interface. This will allow Member States to report their data in iRASFF in a structured, machine-readable way.
  • Integrate automatic data retrieval from external databases into the tool as supporting features, e.g. completion and validity of addresses; geo-coding; retrieval of food matrices, pathogens, methods and other content (FoodEx2, SSD2).
  • Develop and implement a tool for AI-supported tracing data extraction from iRASFF notifications.
  • Organise training for Member States and staff of local authorities.

EFSA is collaborating with the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) on these projects. We invite Member States to review the project outcomes and provide feedback.

For more information on results and how your institution can get involved, please visit our storytelling website.