Salmonella, Listeria and Co.: Old and new challenges for food safety

The occurrence of zoonotic pathogens and toxigenic bacteria in the food chain and the associated risk for humans are the focus of the "4th Symposium for Zoonoses and Food Safety" at the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) in Berlin on 10 and 11 November 2016. Around 250 participants are discussing strategies to combat zoonotic pathogens in livestock, their occurrence in foods of animal origin and the role of toxigenic bacteria for food safety. "The sharp decline of salmonellosis in humans in recent years can be seen as a success of the measures taken to combat this pathogen in poultry flocks," says BfR President Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel. "Accordingly, there is now more focus on other sources of human infection". This includes the occurrence of Salmonella in pig farming and in reptiles kept as pets.

For this reason, the symposium also focuses on how to reduce the spread of salmonella in pig herds and pork meat. To do so, the food chain is being examined from feedstuffs all the way through to food retail. New goals and initiatives of the federal states are being presented too. The possible role of household pets as a source of infection for humans is also being thematised using the example of reptiles.

The risk posed to humans by other zoonotic pathogens is also being looked at. New laboratory methods play an important role in estimating these risks and assessing possible infection chains. This is illustrated by describing the investigation of a listeriosis outbreak. Another current example is the appraisal of the gut bacteria Clostridium difficile as a zoonotic pathogen.

A second main focus of the symposium is toxigenic bacteria. These are bacteria whose metabolites can trigger illnesses known as food intoxications (poisonings) that can sometimes be severe. It is not the bacterium but rather the toxin produced by it that is the cause of the health impairment.

The number of cases of foodborne diseases through toxigenic bacteria reported on EU level is increasing continuously. With approx. 16%, overall food intoxications took third place in reported cases of foodborne disease outbreaks after viruses and salmonella in 2014.

The main focus of the symposium is on the significance, occurrence and detection of toxigenic Staphylococci, Bacilli and Clostridia. The results of outbreak investigations in Germany are being presented among other things, along with suitable examination methods for detecting toxigenic bacteria in prepared foods. The experts are also picking up on the question of whether more efforts have to be made to better estimate and minimise the risk posed by toxigenic bacteria in the future.

About the BfR

The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is a scientifically independent institution within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) in Germany. It advises the Federal Government and Federal Laender on questions of food, chemical and product safety. The BfR conducts its own research on topics that are closely linked to its assessment tasks.

This text version is a translation of the original German text which is the only legally binding version.


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