Food safety events
During the fourth quarter of 2020, the INFOSAN Secretariat was involved in 23 food safety events involving 37 Member States. There were 11 events involving a biological hazard [Salmonella (5), Listeria monocytogenes (2), E.coli (2), Rotavirus (1)
and Clostridium botulinum (1)], 6 involving a chemical hazard [histamine (2), ethylene oxide (1), hydrogen peroxide (1), methanol (1), and an unspecified chemical solvent (1)], 3 involving an undeclared allergen [milk (1), mustard (1) and
peanut (1)], and 3 involving a physical hazard [metal (2), and bone fragments (1)].
The food categories most commonly involved in these 23 events were milk and dairy products (7), herbs, spices and condiments (3), fish and other seafood (2), fruit and fruit products (2), nuts and oilseeds (2), snacks, desserts, and other foods (2), alcoholic
beverages (1), cereals and cereal-based products (1), meat and meat products (1), and products for special nutritional use (1). The food category involved in one of the events is unknown (1).
These events involved Member States from Europe (12), the Americas (8) the Western Pacific (8), South-East Asia (4), the Eastern Mediterranean (3) and Africa (2).
During such international food safety events, the INFOSAN Secretariat relies on the
swift action of national INFOSAN Emergency Contact Points to respond to requests for information. Rapid sharing of information through INFOSAN enables members to implement appropriate risk management measures to prevent illness in their respective countries.
News & Activities
Capacity building workshop on rapid response during food safety crises for South-East Asian Member States, 8-9 October 2020
In October, the Secretariat supported a virtual capacity building workshop on rapid response during food safety crises, coordinated by the National Agency of Drug and Food Control in Indonesia with several international experts’ support. Participants
included INFOSAN members and other food safety professionals from Member States belonging to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Using a virtual classroom, facilitators and participants connected from more than a dozen countries to
exchange ideas and learn from each other’s experiences. Participants reviewed the principles of food safety emergency response plans, risk communication during food safety crises and the roles and responsibilities of INFOSAN members during the
coordination of an international food safety emergency response. The Secretariat is continuing its work to ensure complementarity between INFOSAN and regional systems like the ASEAN Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed.
Regional webinar series for INFOSAN members in Africa, November 2020
In November, the Secretariat, in collaboration with the African Union and the FAO and WHO regional offices for Africa, hosted a series of training webinars on strengthening national and international food safety networks and response systems. Participants
included INFOSAN members and other food safety stakeholders from the region. During the webinars, participants enhanced their understanding of INFOSAN processes and procedures and clarified roles and responsibilities of network members. International
experts also shared their experiences and introduced participants to helpful tools and resources to support food safety emergency response activities. For example, this included an overview of recently published resource material that can be used
for the development of a national protocol for information sharing with national and international partners during food safety events and outbreaks of foodborne illness. The Secretariat is committed to supporting Member States in the region to enhance their capacity for
active participation in INFOSAN and respond more effectively to food safety emergencies in the future.
INFOSAN webinar for Member States in Europe and Central Asia, 26 November 2020
Later in November, the Secretariat supported the organization of a training webinar for Member States in Europe and Central Asia with regional counterparts at FAO and WHO. During the webinar, it was highlighted that several Joint External Evaluations
conducted in the region under the Monitoring and Evaluation Framework of the International Health Regulations emphasized the need to strengthen food safety emergency response systems, including countries’ active participation in INFOSAN. Participants
were therefore familiarized with INFOSAN and how it can be used to facilitate the rapid exchange of information between national authorities and across borders during food safety incidents and emergencies. Country perspectives were shared by INFOSAN
members from Portugal and North Macedonia regarding their use of and engagement with INFOSAN. The important working arrangement between INFOSAN and the European Rapid Alert System for Food And Feed was also highlighted. The Secretariat will continue to work with partners and Member States in the region to strengthen food safety and bolster active participation in network activities.
Seventh regional meeting for strengthening INFOSAN in the Americas, 10-11 December 2020
In December, the Secretariat and colleagues from the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) and the FAO Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean held the seventh Regional Meeting of INFOSAN members in the Americas, hosted virtually by Argentina.
Network members from across the region joined the online meeting to review achievements and challenges faced during the last year and highlight progress in several technical areas of particular interest in the Americas. For example, colleagues from
Guyana elaborated on their efforts to coordinate food safety activities across sectors and between agencies at the national level and reflected on a recent emergency communication simulation exercise conducted by the Secretariat. The other Member
States are invited to facilitate such simulations to test their national protocols for communication during international food safety incidents, and the Secretariat is standing by to assist. During the meeting, INFOSAN members from Argentina, Brazil,
Canada and the USA shared their experiences concerning COVID-19 and super-spreader incidents in the food sector and described the various impacts on the food chain. Finally, members from Argentina, Mexico and the Caribbean Public Health Agency provided
an overview of their activities related to the use of Whole Genome Sequencing for tackling antimicrobial resistance in the food sector. The Secretariat is grateful for all members’
active participation during the online meeting and extends its gratitude on behalf of the entire network to the national authorities from Argentina for hosting the virtual event.
2020 in Review
As described in the INFOSAN Secretariat Strategic Plan for 2020-2025, work
is ongoing to develop a comprehensive list of indicators and annual targets for each of the outlined strategic actions. Of particular note for 2020 is the number of Member States with a registered INFOSAN Emergency Contact Point, which has increased
from 172/194 (89%) in 2019 to 178/194 (92%) in 2020. The number of Member States with at least one or more registered INFOSAN Focal Points increased from 138/194 (71%) in 2019 to 155/194 (80%) in 2020. Outreach continues to all Member States to grow
the network and ensure members are designated from all national authorities with a stake in food safety.
This year, the number of notifications coming directly from members or members via the European Commission Contact Point increased slightly from 84% in 2019 to 87% in 2020. This is important as it means information about these food safety incidents is being exchanged faster than those incidents detected through other means of event-based surveillance (e.g. media monitoring). However, the average number of days between requests by the Secretariat for information about food safety incidents and the provision of the requested information by INFOSAN members was five days in 2020. This is quicker than the historical average of seven days, but not yet to the target of three days proposed in the strategic plan. Faster provision of information means national authorities are more quickly able to apply necessary risk management measures and protect consumers from potentially unsafe food.
The Secretariat will continue to work with members and partners to halt the international spread of contaminated food, prevent foodborne disease outbreaks, and strengthen food safety systems globally to reduce the burden of foodborne diseases.