The Food Standards Agency’s chief scientific adviser said potential trends in foodborne infections should be watched after a decline during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Robin May said data from the past 12 months shows a substantial drop in rates of foodborne illness for four major pathogens, but this is likely due to fewer patients going to general practitioner (GP) offices and to a reduction in diagnostic testing during the coronavirus pandemic.
May said understanding the true level of foodborne illness in 2020 and early 2021 will require detailed analysis, work the FSA has started.
“An accurate benchmark will be invaluable as we begin to monitor post-COVID trends and establish, for example, whether changes in household and business hygiene practices can ultimately lead to a lasting change in the rates of original illnesses. food, ”he said.
“In terms of foodborne illness reporting, the bottom line is that we don’t know what last year’s data actually looked like because a lot of our data comes from things like reports from general practitioners, what people weren’t doing. So we don’t yet know if the apparent drop is totally false and is simply due to people not going to their GP to report it, or partially true and partially false or fully true due to changed hygiene practices. .
“This is something that we hope to get out of the data. As we move forward and start to emerge, we’ll start to see a data model that we can use to think about. So if we suddenly come back exactly as before, we may start to wonder if this immersion was just artificial or is it because people forgot to wash their hands again. I think we’ll get answers there, but it will take some time for the data to fall. “
Try to figure out the numbers
The FSA conducts infectious bowel disease investigations during COVID-19 covering self-reported infection rates, access to medical care, likely sources of infection and associated behaviors, as well as analysis of admissions to the hospital for serious illness where underreporting should be less of a problem.
May recommended that the FSA collect data from local authorities, health services and others to identify potential trends in incidence as the UK recovers from the pandemic.
There were 49,222 laboratory-confirmed cases of Campylobacter infection in 2020, 4,442 for Salmonella, 566 for E. coli O157 and 136 infections with Listeria monocytogenes.
A number of other studies in different countries have suggested a drop in foodborne infections due to COVID-19 measures, but all have warned of the impact of how the data is interpreted.
While presenting an annual update to the FSA’s board of directors, May also revealed that the agency made an offer earlier this year to the Treasury, a government department that controls public spending, to create a infrastructure for genomic surveillance of foodborne pathogens.
If funded, the project will enable FSA, Food Standards Scotland, Defra, Department of Health and Social Affairs and UK Research and Innovation to use whole genome sequencing technology to map pathogens from Wild-type food origin and farm-to-fork resistant to antimicrobials.
Such work could help link cases of foodborne illness to potential sources and help understand the chains of pathogen transmission within the food system. May added that he hopes there will be an update on the development of the project in the near future.
Delay in viewing burgers and risk assessment work
A new framework for foodborne illness is being developed to inform future risk management approaches to tackle the problem, building on work published in 2020.
The depth of knowledge about the prevalence and social and economic impact of foodborne illness provides an evidence base to develop and target interventions and measure their impact, according to the FSA.
May also said it was important to have access to the capacity of national laboratories to ensure food standards and continued food safety and authenticity.
A public comment period on the updated less than well done burgers guidelines has been delayed due to the pandemic, but is still expected to occur. Work on triggers to monitor and provide assurance that controls are being applied effectively has also been slowed down due to COVID-19.
In the past six months, 110 incidents have required a risk assessment, according to an annual report on the subject.
A food safety assessment to inform risk-based standards and controls concerns Campylobacter in small broiler slaughterhouses.
Two import risk assessments were commissioned by Defra from the FSA. One is to assess 19 categories of animal products to support decisions on the level of import controls in England, Scotland and Wales.
The other is an assessment of raw meat products imported from the EU and other countries to help decision-making on transport conditions.
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