Infection Alimentaire

Foodborne illness outbreaks (FIOs)

Definition and role of ANSES

A foodborne illness outbreakis defined as the occurrence of at least two similar cases of symptoms, usually gastrointestinal, whose cause can be related to the same foodborne origin.

Foodborne illness outbreaks are notifiable diseases. By reporting them, swift action can be taken if collective cateringis involved. In France, foodborne illness outbreaksare monitored by the French Institute for Public Health Surveillance (InVS) through the mandatory reporting, and with data from the National Reference Centre (NRC) forSalmonella, one of the families of bacteria most frequently implicated in foodborne illness outbreaks.

The main microorganisms and toxins responsible for foodborne illness outbreaks are Staphylococcus aureus via the enterotoxins it synthesises, Salmonella, Campylobacter, Yersinia enterocolitica, enteric viruses, and the bacteria Clostridium perfringens and Bacillus cereus.

A foodborne illness outbreak is usually related to the use of contaminated raw materials and/or non-compliance with hygiene measures and temperatures (breaking the cold/heat chain) when preparing food, or failure to prevent cross-contamination when handling food.

ANSES and foodborne illness outbreaks

The Agency and its laboratories are involved in the characterisation and monitoring of microorganisms that cause foodborne illness outbreaks. To do this, they conduct assessment and research work on the pathogens considered and develop analytical toolsfor their detection, as well as control methods. The Agency writes data sheets on biological hazards, describing the foodborne pathogens. It provides scientific and technical support to its supervisory ministries to enable them to implement their monitoring and control plans (sampling procedures, validation of analytical methods, analysis of samples, etc).

ANSES and its laboratories also participate in the prevention and investigation of foodborne illness outbreaks. In particular,the Agency issues opinions on the microbiological hazards taken into account by professionals in their guides to good hygiene practice, and conducts work on consumer practices in terms of domestic hygiene.