Speaking at the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) conference in Orlando, Florida last week, Dr. Peter Ben Embarek, a scientist for INFOSAN (International Food Safety Authorities Network) at the WHO, said that better global collaboration in communicating recall information could save time in a recall, which could ultimately save lives.
“If you look at the food being produced worldwide, most of it is not meeting the level of food safety we would like,” Ben Embarek said. “…Ingredients find their way into thousands and thousands of products worldwide. When an outbreak goes undetected we have a much bigger impact in terms of public health – and reducing the public health impact also means reducing the cost impact for the businesses involved of course.”
At the moment a lot of global recall and outbreak information is carried out through INFOSAN, a joint initiative of the WHO and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which currently involves 177 member states. In 2005, international health regulations required member countries to declare all public health emergencies of international concern, including those caused by food – and other information sources include media and internet searches.
However, Ben Embarek said he would like to see a lot more information sharing from food manufacturers.
“Food companies collect much more data than is available to academia or food safety authorities,” he said. “Last year it is estimated that more than 800 million microbiological tests were performed by the food industry – and most of that data is wasted…Sharing this data and the information generated, such as trends over time and baseline data, may help to prevent problems in the future.
“In my opinion, this could be the next big development in food safety and public health.”
In an effort to better share information between national food safety authorities, INFOSAN also includes a community website “with a LinkedIn or Facebook feeling”, with sensitive recall alert information, discussion groups, and member contact information.
“We would like to better collaborate with the private sector in the future, because a company will often communicate with its own government during a recall, but companies directly communicating with the global community might save time,” Ben Embarek said.