On Examining Food, we aim to make it easier for you to stay up-to-date amidst all the hustle and bustle of food industry developments, research and legislation in the arena of food safety. This includes highlighting and reviewing relevant websites that could make useful bookmarks—the latest is the Public Library of Science (PLoS) collection covering the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Global Foodborne Disease initiative. The new PLoS collection gathers the report and allied literature along with commentary, supplementary articles and related content. Since the studies report the data regionally, it is a valuable country-specific reference list for industry members involved in food safety issues.
Foodborne Disease Burden Epidemiology Reference Group (FERG)
Established in 2007, the WHO’s Foodborne Disease Burden Epidemiology Reference Group (FERG) has been working for almost a decade to compile global reports on the impact of hazards such as bacteria, viruses, protozoa, parasites and toxins transmitted in foods. The recent WHO report (Havelaar et al. 2015, reviewed on Examining Food), is the culmination of this data-gathering exercise, presenting for the first time, reports on global incidence and the methodology behind completing such a large project. It found that estimates for global foodborne disease (FBD) burden ranked it as equivalent to that brought about by infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. Young children face a disproportionate amount of this risk, bearing between 40 and 75% of the overall burden.
WHO Global Estimates of Foodborne Disease: PLoS Collection
The PLoS FERG collection provides a convenient repository for the work, bringing together the seven peer-reviewed papers that present key results according to type of hazard. The collection also serves as an access point to other papers that give details on methodology or reviews on the project. As stated by study authors, Havelaar and Lake introducing the new collection, these papers highlight “the considerable support given to FERG by the global scientific community.”
As well as the summary bringing together the global estimates, the collection contains two papers on methodology. These papers detail the processes used to recruit experts to collaborate in the study and the methods used to aggregate estimates of burden in terms of Disability-Adjusted Life Years (DALYs). Using DALYs as the unit of measurement allowed researchers to examine impact across a range of causative factors in addition to making comparisons with non-FBD such as HIV/AIDS and malaria. The papers also highlight limitations in the studies, drawing attention to worldwide under-reporting for FBD and the common lack of diagnostic evaluation that makes it difficult to attribute precise cause.
An additional paper, (Lake et al. 2015) gives an overview of continuing studies carried out under FERG guidance by country-specific task forces. This paper summarizes the steps taken to establish national monitoring schemes for monitoring and estimating burden of FBD that will eventually address food safety management through implementation of relevant control measures.
The remaining papers in the collection cover the different types of FBD hazard identified by the FERG task forces—bacterial, protozoal, and viral; parasitic; chemical toxins—giving global and regional DALY impact estimates for each. Dividing estimates by region and sub-region allows individual countries to focus on food security issues most relevant to the population, as well as providing a comprehensive overview for global organizations.
As a resource, the PLoS collection provides a wealth of information on foodborne disease to food industry members. In his foreword to the PLoS special collection, Kazuaki Myagishima, Director of the WHO Department of Food Safety and Zoonoses, encourages governments and other stakeholders to use the tools contained within the papers to combat foodborne diseases.
Although aimed more towards policy makers and research agencies, the presentation of regionally stratified data allows food industry members to focus on hazards that are relevant to specific geographical locations, covering food safety issues of importance to local consumers. In a WHO commentary released December 2015, Miyagishima reinforces this collaboration for developing effective national food safety strategies, mentioning the importance of global supply chains and international trade.
In his words, “Food safety is a global concern… Unsafe food puts each one of us at risk, regardless of where we are in the world.”
For other useful links to bookmark, check out these Thermo Fisher resources: