Alerts involving global food safety network climb; frozen berries linked to multi-country outbreak

The number of food safety incidents involving an international network has gone up in the third quarter of this year compared to the previous three months.

The International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN) was part of 58 alerts from July through September compared to 46 in the second quarter of 2022.

Thirty-two incidents fell into the biological hazard category which was dominated by Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella with 10 each. E. coli was behind with six, Clostridium botulinum and hepatitis A caused two each, and Bacillus cereus and Coxsackievirus one each.

Eleven involved an undeclared allergen or ingredient such as milk, almonds, egg, walnuts, peanuts, soy or wheat. Seven were caused by physical hazards including glass, metal, insects, and plastic. 

Eight were due to chemical hazards like mycotoxins, aconitine, butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), ethylene glycol, ethylene oxide, histamine, and peracetic acid. Aconitine is a toxin produced by plants and BHT is an additive in foods such as cereals.

Hepatitis A linked to berries

INFOSAN is managed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.

Food categories most commonly involved were snacks, desserts, and other foods; milk and dairy products; composite foods; meat and meat products; and vegetables and vegetable products. Fish and other seafood; cereals and cereal-based products; fruit and fruit products; and herbs spices and condiments also caused some incidents.

More than half of all incidents were reported by INFOSAN members, 28 percent through the European Commission’s Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF), and 19 percent via various WHO channels.

One highlight was hepatitis A in six European countries and the United Kingdom which has a link to frozen berries. Clusters and outbreaks of hepatitis A virus (HAV) genotype IB with four unique but related HAV sequences have been reported with more than 300 cases in Austria, Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Sweden, and the UK.

Investigations suggest frozen berries could be connected to the outbreaks and clusters of cases, alongside human-to-human transmission of the related HAV strains, said INFOSAN.

In July, an outbreak was linked to a restaurant in Hungary, where 16 people fell ill also with HAV IB infection. Some patients had cold soup made with frozen berries. This prompted a recall of Ardo Fruitberry mix, produced and packed by a subcontractor of the group in Poland and distributed to more than 25 countries.

Training and workshops

Another event involved the detection of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) in spinach and rocket from the Netherlands. Implicated products had been internationally distributed to 16 countries including Belgium, Germany, Kuwait, Singapore, the Republic of Korea, Switzerland, the UK, and the United States.

Other investigations have been conducted by INFOSAN members to try and understand a rise in alerts involving E. coli O157 and non-O157 STEC.

INFOSAN also participated in a training organized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and WHO Eastern Mediterranean regional office, on foodborne disease surveillance and response. The sessions were delivered to Sudan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. 

Four virtual INFOSAN workshops were held during the quarter in Benin, Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire, Ireland, and the UK. The aim was to support countries in strengthening their capacities to manage food safety risks.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here)