Eire and Northern Ireland link up to tackle food pathogens

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Foodborne illness, Northern ireland

With €173.5 million in lost earnings due to acute gastroenteritis,
a new report from the Irish food agency highlights the need for a
food safety system to cover the whole island of Ireland, writes
Lindsey Partos.

Under the umbrella of food safety operation safefood, for the first time North and South will collaborate in a formal fashion to investigate foodborne risk, says Safefood's public health chief specialist Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan.

"Joint surveillance, joint training and joint research will guide the collaboration,"​ she tells FoodNavigator.com.

Ireland suffers a considerable 3.2 million cases of acute gastroenteritis (self-reported) each year, or 8,800 new cases each day.

"About 1.5 million working days are lost each year in Ireland due to acute gastroenteritis,"​ adds Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan.

The report found that Campylobacter (a bacterium primarily from poultry sources) was the single most common bacterial cause of food poisoning both north and south.

Rates for food pathogen E-coli 0157 were similar in both areas of Ireland, but much lower than Scotland and higher than England and Wales.

'Exotic' gastrointestinal infections from abroad were found to be rare, with only two cases of cholera and seven of typhoid found on the island as a whole for the year under study.

Approximately a quarter of the salmonella cases were found to be imported from abroad, mostly from Mediterranean holiday resorts.

Carried in eggs, poultry, raw milk and chocolate the salmonella bacteria is a major problem in most countries across the globe, leading to hefty costs for the public and private sector.

Recent estimates from the US put total annual costs (medical care and lost productivity combined) of the pathogen at a massive $2.3 billion (€1.85bn).

Far from being just an Irish problem, in industrialised countries, the percentage of people suffering from foodborne diseases each year has been reported to be up to 30 per cent.

Identifying differences between the North and South, the report underlines key points to harmonise the two regional surveillance systems. These are: lists of notifiable diseases should be the same; common case definitions should be used in both jurisdictions; notification forms should be standardised; the promotion of common guidelines; and clinical notifications should be linked to data coming from laboratories or other sources.

Also linked to the report's findings, safefood has launched an 'all-island collaborative forum' involving the Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre (CDSC) in Northern Ireland and the National Disease Surveillance Centre (NDSC) in the Republic under the umbrella of safefood.

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