Better collaboration could be ‘next big development’ in food safety, says WHO scientist

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food safety, World health organization

Better communication could strengthen the supply chain, says Ben Embarek
Better communication could strengthen the supply chain, says Ben Embarek
More data sharing and better communication between the private sector and public health organizations could be the next big development in food safety and public health, according to a World Health Organization (WHO) scientist.

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.

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1 comment

Sounds nice but in reality...ain't going to happen

Posted by mark,

It really sounds great...even makes common sense but it just won't happen. Yes on the one hand industry might argue over issues of confidentiality but in light of the carbendazim fiasco in the USA....industry probably will be increasingly reluctant to share information.

FDA didn't even detect the was industry that alerted the agency. The fungicide lost approval from EPA several years ago as they determined that there were several other sources in the environment and given the availability of other fungicides the EPA decided to no longer allow carbendazim for tolerance being anything at/above 10ppb. Having been told by industry that carbendazim was pretty widely found in orange juice the FDA acted....refusing entry to Brazilian orange juice concentrate while allowing domestic product testing at even higher levels of carbendazim to go about it's merry way throught the market. The reason? On the one hand there is the need to maintain regulatory integrity in applying the "law" for the law's sake but also it was easy to block and refuse foreign orange juice while recalling domestic product would have been an economic nightmare....yup domestic levels of carbendazim that are higher than Brazilian are just fine....lower levels on Brazilian orange juice = illegal residues and product refusals by FDA.....where's the food safety logic here?

Taking a look at the FDA's import alerts....the Brazilian producers are now on the import alert meaning all of their shipments of this product will automatically be detained with lab testing to be carried out by the improters...technically this means the Brazilians are guilty of producing adulterated product and after a great deal of expense these suppliers will eventually be able to apply for removal from the import alert....all for something that everyone agrees does not pose a food safety issue but is a technical requirement. Given all this....why would industry be so silly as to engage in sharing information in the future?

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