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Aliment

Food safety, from farm to fork

Published on 21/04/2021

Keywords : Aliment

Milk, meat, vegetables... any of the food we eat can be a source of contamination. Through the transmission of bacteria, parasites, viruses of animal or plant origin, or chemical contaminants, our food can potentially cause illness or poisoning in humans. Food safety forms part of a global "one health" approach, at the interface of animal, plant and human health. To protect consumers from the risks of food contamination and prevent potential outbreaks, it is essential to take action at all stages of the food chain, "from farm to fork". This is ANSES's role.

Foodborne illnesses

Foodborne illnesses in humans can occur when food is contaminated with bacteria such as Salmonella or Listeria monocytogenes, parasites such as those responsible for toxoplasmosis and giardiasis, or viruses such as norovirus and hepatitis A virus.

These illnesses are most often manifested by mild gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting, abdominal cramps, or diarrhoea. However, more severe forms can occur, causing septicaemia, hepatitis and neurological symptoms.

If such an illness affects two or more people and is associated with the same food source, it is considered to be an outbreak. Foodborne illness outbreaks are notifiable diseases in France.

The main agents responsible for foodborne illness outbreaks are bacterial toxins (produced by Staphylococcus aureus, Clostridium perfringens and Bacillus cereus), Salmonella and viruses such as norovirus responsible for gastroenteritis.

Did you know?

Salmonella is a bacterium that occurs naturally in the digestive tract of livestock animals. It is transmitted to humans mainly through the consumption of contaminated food, such as raw eggs and egg products, meat and raw milk products. It is the second most common cause of foodborne illness in Europe and is estimated to be responsible for around 72 deaths, 4,400 hospital admissions and over 198,000 cases per year in France.

Taking action "from farm to fork"

Before reaching the consumer's plate, food has to go through several steps, all of which are potential sources of contamination:

  • Primary production: animal husbandry and crop growing,
  • Product processing: such as milk pasteurisation or the production of mixed salads,
  • Distribution and marketing of food, including its transport from the place of production or processing to the place of sale,
  • Final preparation and place of consumption: handling, storage and cooking of food in canteens, restaurants and domestic households.

 

Did you know?

Pasteurisation is a preservation process that involves heating a food to a given temperature for a given time, to reduce the health risk to humans from any micro-organisms present in this food. Initially developed in the late 19th century to preserve wine and beer, this process was soon applied to milk to combat the transmission of brucellosis from animals.

At each step of the process, contamination can occur due to:

  • the use of naturally or unnaturally contaminated raw materials, such as meat and eggs contaminated with Salmonella;
  • a failure to comply with hygiene measures during the processing, distribution or preparation of food. For example, food can be contaminated directly or indirectly (cross-contamination), by sick operators, production plant surfaces and kitchen equipment;

To prevent such contamination, food industry professionals implement good hygiene practices such as staff hygiene and cleaning and disinfection of surfaces, as well as procedures based on Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) principles.

ANSES is involved at every step. It takes part in the detection, identification and detailed specific characterisation of microbial contaminants; and in the collection and analysis of data on many pathogens in the food chain (from primary production to consumption) and in the environment. The Agency conducts work to:

  • identify and analyse potential reservoirs of pathogens found in animals, the natural environment and different ecosystems,
  • identify factors and practices influencing levels of contamination within production sectors, such as the hygiene of product handlers or compliance with the cold chain,
  • study the behaviour of the bacterium, virus or parasite in different food products,
  • identify the main food categories responsible for foodborne infections, such as consumption of poultry meat and the risk of campylobacteriosis.

This work aims to assess consumer exposure, characterise the risks associated with the presence of these pathogens in food, and identify the most effective control measures to be applied throughout the food chain to reduce these risks. It is ultimately a question of guaranteeing control over the entire food production sector, "from farm to fork".

A great deal of work is carried out as part of research projects under the EJP One Health programme coordinated by the Agency.

 

Health monitoring, an essential link in the food chain

Created in 2018, the Health Monitoring Platform for the Food Chain (SCA) is contributing to the development of an integrated food safety system encompassing all food contaminants and mobilising all the stakeholders in the food chain: competent authorities, health agencies, research institutes, laboratories, catering professionals, etc.

This platform is an essential link for strengthening health monitoring in animal health, plant health and food safety. It fulfils a common objective: to protect consumers from risks associated with chemical or biological contamination of food in order to better prevent outbreaks and health crises.

In doing this it supports its many public and private partners in the design of monitoring protocols and the coordination, promotion and assessment of existing surveillance schemes, as well as those needing to be adapted or created. It also conducts international health monitoring in its area of expertise.

 

The consumer: an integral part of food safety

The health risk management strategy is primarily based on preventing contamination upstream of the production sectors, before it reaches the consumer. However, the consumer remains a key player in food safety. Indeed, each year, around one third of the foodborne disease outbreaks reported in France occur in the family environment. Some of these cases are due to poor domestic practices (inadequate storage, insufficient cooking or cross contamination via kitchen utensils). To address this, the Agency issues recommendations for consumers on preventing microbiological risks at home: washing hands regularly, refraining from cooking when ill, cleaning the refrigerator frequently, complying with the cold chain and the use-by date of products, cooking food properly, etc.

 

The foods to be avoided for vulnerable individuals 

Population category

Foods to be avoided

Pregnant women

All raw or undercooked meats.

Cooked delicatessen meat products requiring cold storage (e.g. rillettes, pâtés, jellied products).

Delicatessen meat products containing raw pork liver (e.g. figatelli, liver sausage), raw or undercooked pork liver.

Raw milk

Cheeses made from raw milk with the exception of hard pressed cheeses such as gruyère or comté). Soft cheeses with a surface mould (such as camembert or brie) or washed rind (such as munster or pont l'évêque), cheeses sold grated.

Raw eggs and products containing raw or undercooked eggs.

Raw shellfish, raw fish (sushi, sashimi, taramasalata), smoked fish.

Shelled crustaceans sold cooked and requiring cold storage.

Elderly people

Cooked delicatessen meat products requiring cold storage (e.g. rillettes, pâtés, jellied products).

All raw or undercooked meats.

Raw milk and cheeses made from raw milk (with the exception of hard pressed cheeses such as gruyère or comté).

Raw eggs and products containing raw or undercooked eggs.

Raw fish (sushi, sashimi, taramasalata), smoked fish.

Shelled crustaceans sold cooked and requiring cold storage.

 

Children aged 0-5 years

Honey (infants under one year of age).

All raw or undercooked meat (cook minced meat and minced meat products thoroughly).

Raw milk and cheeses made from raw milk (with the exception of hard pressed cheeses such as gruyère or comté).

Raw eggs and products containing raw or undercooked eggs.

Raw shellfish, raw fish.

Children aged 6-10 years

All raw or undercooked meat (cook minced meat and minced meat products thoroughly).

Raw milk and cheeses made from raw milk (with the exception of hard pressed cheeses such as gruyère or comté).

 

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