Low incidence of TSEs in the EU, says EFSA

EFSA has published its first EU summary report on the monitoring of Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (TSEs) in cattle, sheep and goats. Previously, the annual reports on TSEs were compiled by the European Commission.

TSEs are a group of diseases that affect the brain and nervous system of humans and animals.  With the exception of Classical BSE, there is no scientific evidence that other TSEs can be transmitted to humans.

mad-cows-mothers-milkA low number of BSE cases in cattle were detected in EU Member States, none of which entered the food chain.

Some of the main findings of the report are:

Five cases of BSE in cattle have been reported in the EU, out of about 1.4 million animals tested.

641 cases of scrapie in sheep (out of 319,638 tested) and 1,052 in goats have been reported (out of 135,857 tested) in the EU.

This report provides results on data collected by all EU Member States, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland for 2015 on the occurrence of bovine spongiform encephalopathy

260 sick: EU has an egg problem too

Seven countries have reported human cases of Salmonella Enteritidis between 1 May and 12 October 2016 (112 confirmed and 148 probable).

powell-egg-nov-14Cases have been reported by Belgium, Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the UK. In addition, Croatia reported a cluster of cases, including one death, possibly associated with this outbreak.

Whole genome sequencing, food and environmental investigations, and trace-back investigations established a link between the outbreak and an egg packing centre in Poland. Evidence suggests eggs as the most likely source of infection. 

Polish competent authorities and Member States to which suspect eggs were distributed have now halted distribution.

To contain the outbreak and identify possible new cases promptly, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and EFSA recommend that EU Member States step up their monitoring.

Affected countries should continue sharing information on the epidemiological, microbiological and environmental investigations, including issuing relevant notifications using the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) and the Early Warning and Response System (EWRS), the latter representing the official channel to notify serious cross border threats to health.

Nerd alert: Risk assessment in Europe

The European Food Safety Authority says a special issue of the EFSA Journal presents the main outcomes of EFSA’s 2nd Scientific Conference “Shaping the Future of Food Safety, Together” held in Milan, on 14-16 October 2015. 

kvANE_s-200x150The event was a unique opportunity for stakeholders in Europe’s food regulatory system – policy makers, risk assessors, scientists and NGOs – to identify future challenges for food safety risk assessment in Europe. Over 1000 delegates came together in what proved to be a stimulating and insightful debate on global food safety concerns. The discussions covered an impressive range of topics and provided inspiration for EFSA’s Strategy 2020. The conclusions will help EFSA and the wider risk assessment community to chart a course in food safety risk assessment in the coming years.

The special issue of the EFSA Journal reflects the conference’s three plenary and nine parallel sessions and is accompanied by a Foreword from EFSA’s Executive Director, Bernhard Url.

All the conference material that was published on the conference’s dedicated microsite will be archived on EFSA’s website. This includes the programme, webcasts, recordings and video clips which will continue to be publicly available and linked to the special issue of the EFSA Journal. 

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EFSA advises on meat spoilage during storage and transport

Continuing in the advice vein, the European Food Safety Authority is trying to balance safety and quality when transporting meat.

meat.and.you.simpsonsEFSA had previously advised on the implications for meat safety if two parameters – time and temperature – varied and provided several scenarios for ensuring safety of meat during storage and transport of meat. The Commission subsequently asked EFSA to consider what implications such scenarios would have for the growth of bacteria that cause meat to spoil.

“If the sole consideration was safety, policy makers would have more options on the table to pick from. However, scenarios that are acceptable in terms of safety may not be acceptable in terms of quality,” said Dr. Marta Hugas, Head of EFSA’s Biological Hazards and Contaminants unit.

Current legislation requires that carcasses are chilled to no more than 7C and that this temperature is maintained until mincing. The European Commission wants to revise this legislation to provide industry with more flexibility and asked EFSA’s scientific advice on safety and quality aspects.

Experts also said that effective hygienic measures during slaughter and processing help control contamination with spoilage bacteria.

Sucks to be a regulator: European food safety office evacuated after explosives found

The European Food Safety Authority in Parma, Italy, received a package with explosive material on Tuesday which a local bomb squad destroyed, police said.

A worker in the authority’s mail room called police after discovering a suspicious, book-sized package addressed to an employee who no longer worked at the authority, a police spokeswoman said.

The package contained a small amount of a powdered explosive material that was enough to maim, she said.

Two floors of the building where the authority is housed were temporarily evacuated while the bomb was neutralised la Repubblica newspaper’s website said.

EU data on veterinary drug residues in animals and food

European Food Safety Authority’s data report summarises the monitoring data from 2014, including compliance rates with EU residue limits, for a range of veterinary medicines, unauthorised substances and contaminants found in animals and animal-derived food.

abattoirs-anc-494x190Overall, 730,000 samples were reported in 2014 – a drop from the 1 million plus samples in last year’s report on 2013 data – from the 28 EU Member States.

In 2014, the level of non-compliance in targeted samples (i.e. samples taken to detect illegal use or check non-compliance with the maximum levels) rose slightly – to 0.37%, compared to 0.25%-0.34% over the previous seven years.

There was slightly higher non-compliance for resorcylic acid lactones (hormonally active compounds produced by fungi or man-made) and contaminants such as metals and mycotoxins (toxins produced by fungi).

The summary data reported suggest high rates of compliance overall and demonstrate the strengths of the EU monitoring system and its contribution to consumer protection.

Apricot kernels pose risk of cyanide poisoning

Eating more than one large or three small raw apricot kernels in a serving can exceed safe levels. Toddlers consuming even one small apricot kernel risk being over the safe level.

apricot_kernels_160427A naturally-occurring compound called amygdalin is present in apricot kernels and converts to cyanide after eating. Cyanide poisoning can cause nausea, fever, headaches, insomnia, thirst, lethargy, nervousness, joint and muscle various aches and pains, and falling blood pressure. In extreme cases it is fatal.

Studies indicate 0.5 to 3.5 milligrams (mg) cyanide per kilogram of body weight can be lethal. The European Food Safety Authority’s Scientific Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain set a safe level for a one-off exposure (known as the Acute Reference Dose, or “ARfD”) of 20 micrograms per kilogram of body weight. This is 25 times below the lowest reported lethal dose.

Based on these limits and the amounts of amygdalin typically present in raw apricot kernels, EFSA’s experts estimate that adults could consume one large or three small apricot kernels (370mg), without exceeding the ARfD. For toddlers the amount would be 60mg which is about half of one small kernel.

Apricot fruit is not affected

Normal consumption of apricot fruit does not pose a health risk to consumers. The kernel is the seed from inside the apricot stone. It is obtained by cracking open and removing the hard stone shell and, therefore, has no contact with the fruit.

Most raw apricot kernels sold in the EU are believed to be imported from outside the EU and marketed to consumers via the internet. Sellers promote them as a cancer-fighting food and some actively promote intakes of 10 and 60 kernels per day for the general population and cancer patients, respectively.

Evaluating the claimed benefits of raw apricot kernels for cancer treatment or any other use is outside EFSA’s food safety remit and was, therefore, not part of this scientific opinion.

EFSA consulted its partners in EU Member States to discuss this scientific opinion and previous assessments by national authorities (see report below). This risk assessment will inform risk managers in the European Commission and Member States who regulate EU food safety. They will decide if measures are needed to protect public health from consumption of raw apricot kernels.

It’s so simple, European style: What we can learn from menopause

The way scientists plan, verify and report how they use data and evidence is crucial for the transparency, impartiality and quality of scientific assessments. Our new interactive infographic provides an easy-to-follow overview to understand EFSA’s new approach for evidence use, developed in the context of the “Promoting methods for evidence use in scientific assessments” initiative.

This approach was first tested last year in a risk assessment for peri- and post-menopausal women taking food supplements containing isolated isoflavones. It is currently being implemented in further EFSA case-studies.

Yup, that’s it.

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I’m going back to pajamas: Food safety risk communication

 

The European Food Safety Authority has provided two new tools to assist with risk communication during a food safety outbreak.

spock.logicThe U.S. International Food Information Council says that “pajama-clad bloggers” can “cry wolf on a global stage” and that “every food-related kerfuffle becomes an opportunity for tweeting, fact or fiction, which is actually believed and followed by millions, fueled in large part by the fallibility of social media users themselves and an inability to judge risks rationally.”

If only we were ore rational (which means, see the world as I see the world, believe what I believe).

I’ll stick with the Europeans on this one.

EFSA created the guidelines together with EU Member States based on best practices gained from previous food-related crises. Developed in cooperation with members of EFSA’s Advisory Forum Communications Working Group, this document will help ensure consistency and coherence when communicating in a crisis.

Best practice for crisis communicators: How to communicate during food or feed safety incidents also clearly explains the role and responsibilities of EFSA and Member State organisations during the various phases of a crisis to improve preparedness for any future outbreaks that may cross borders.

In November 2015, EFSA carried out a simulation exercise with representatives of EU Member States, the European Commission and the World Health Organization. Their feedback was incorporated into the final version of the guidelines.

Shira Tabachnikoff, an international cooperation adviser at EFSA, said: “Preparation and cooperation are key elements to successfully communicating during a crisis. The simulation exercise brought home the need for a strong network and clear processes. These guidelines will prove useful if and when they are needed.” 

The crisis communication guidelines include templates such as a practical checklist, a media inquiry log and a social media comments log.

Can scrapie in sheep cause disease in humans?

On March 20, 1996, British Health Secretary Stephen Dorrell rose in the House to inform colleagues that scientists had discovered a new variant of Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease (CJD) in 10 victims, and that they could not rule out a link with consumption of beef from cattle with bovine spongiform encephalapthy (BSE), also known as mad cow disease.

timmy.timeThe announcement of March 20, 1996 was the culmination of 15 years of mismanagement, political bravado and a gross underestimation of the public’s capacity to deal with risk.  More important than any of the several lessons to be drawn from the BSE fiasco was this: the risk of no-risk messages.  For 10 years the British government and leading scientific advisors insisted there was no risk — or that the risk was so infintesimly small that it could be said there was no risk — of BSE leading to a similar malady in humans, CJD, even in the face of contradictory evidence.  The no-risk message contributed to the devastating economic and social effects on Britons, a nation of beefeaters, the slaughter of over 1 million British cattle, and a decrease in global consumption of beef, especially in Japan, at a cost of billions of dollars.

Part of that logic stemmed from the apparent absence of zoonotic or human effects from the sheep transmissible spongiform Encephalopathy, scrapie, which had been know in the UK for hundreds of years.

mad.cows.mothers.milkEuropean researchers have now reviewed the available evidence.

The factors that modulate the transmissibility of Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (TSE) and the approaches for the study of their zoonotic potential are reviewed. The paper ‘Evidence for zoonotic potential of ovine scrapie prions’ by Cassard et al. (2014) is scientifically appraised, focussing on the experimental design, the results and the conclusions.

The paper provides evidence in a laboratory experiment that some Classical scrapie isolates can propagate in humanised transgenic mice and produce prions that on second passage are similar to those causing one form of sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (sCJD). It is concluded that the results from the study raise the possibility that scrapie prions have the potential to be zoonotic, but do not provide evidence that transmission can or does take place under field conditions.

The conclusions of the 2011 ECDC-EFSA ‘Joint Scientific Opinion on any possible epidemiological or molecular association between TSEs in animals and humans’ are reviewed in the light of the new scientific evidence available since its publication. This supports and strengthens the conclusions of that opinion with regard to the potential for some animal TSE to be zoonotic, but does not provide evidence of a causal link between Classical or Atypical scrapie and human TSE. Current evidence does not establish this link, and no consistent risk factors have been identified for sCJD.

shaun.sheep
The possibility of scrapie-related public health risks from the consumption of ovine products cannot be assessed. Recommendations are formulated on further studies and data that are needed to investigate the zoonotic potential of animal TSE and to estimate the amount of infectivity from TSE-infected products sourced from small ruminants and entering the food chain in the European Union.

Scientific Opinion on a request for a review of a scientific publication concerning the zoonotic potential of ovine scrapie prions

EFSA Journal 2015;13(8):4197 [58 pp.]. doi:10.2903/j.efsa.2015.4197

EFSA Panel on Biological Hazards (BIOHAZ)

http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/pub/4197.htm?utm_source=feed&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ej

http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/pub/4197.htm?utm_source=feed&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ej