Foodborne illnesses in focus at international workshop

The meat industry, alongside other food sectors, is set to benefit from the first International Workshop for Foodborne Viruses, which saw more than 130 experts on viruses in the food chain gather to tackle the problem. 

Organised by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the session took place at the Royal Society of Science in London to help understand viruses in the food chain and assist in the identification of key research priorities that will help scientists, industry and regulators to control the risk to consumers.

The FSA highlighted that E.coli and campylobacter, which are often caused by meat products, are usually associated with food poisoning. However, viruses have increasingly been recognised as important causes of outbreaks.

Recent data showed that such viruses were responsible for 19% of all foodborne outbreaks within the European Union. The FSA said that they caused more than 1,000 outbreaks and affected about 8,700 people. Since 2007, the number of foodborne outbreaks caused by viruses has been increasing.

“Foodborne viruses present many challenges and this meeting has provided an excellent opportunity to identify the key research priorities that will impact on public health in Europe,” said professor Guy Poppy, chief scientific adviser at the FSA.

“This is just the start and we will need to work together internationally to target our resources to make progress in this increasingly important area.”

Meanwhile, Dr Marta Hugas, head of the biocontaminant unit at EFSA, said the best way to tackle these issues was by taking a united stance: “In a world where the movement of food and people is on the increase, a collaborative, international approach is the most effective way of identifying the areas of research needed to address the risks posed by foodborne viruses,” she commented.

“That’s why this workshop, which brought together leading experts from across the world, is so important. EFSA is pleased to be hosting this event with its colleagues from the UK’s Food Standards Agency.”

The FSA said that knowledge gaps still remained in understanding foodborne viruses.

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