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General information related to foodborne disease

Outbreaks of foodborne disease attract media attention and raise consumer concern. However, cases of foodborne illness occur daily in all countries, from the most to the least developed. As most of these cases are not reported, the true dimension of the problem is unknown, and efforts to secure the resources and support necessary for the identification and implementation of effective solutions often fail.

Effective control of foodborne disease must be based on evaluated information about foodborne hazards and the incidence of foodborne disease. Development of a strategy to reduce food-related risks requires knowledge about the current levels of foodborne disease in Member States. It must also be based on an appreciation of the targets and timeframe for improving food safety. This should be an on-going process, in which new targets are set when old ones are achieved, and progress should be monitored continuously in targeted surveys.

The absence of reliable data on the burden of foodborne disease impedes understanding about its public health importance and prevents the development of risk- based solutions to its management. Innovative strategies and methods are needed for surveying foodborne disease and food contamination. A laboratory-based surveillance system should be based on sentinel sites and regional and/or international laboratory networks. A necessary prerequisite for risk-based strategies based on optimized surveys is an interdisciplinary approach involving strong collaboration among all sectors dealing with foodborne disease surveillance and food safety in the health sector.

WHO will initiate a Global Strategy for the surveillance of foodborne diseases by urging Member States to set up laboratory-based systems covering both outbreaks, sporadic cases and for monitoring contamination of food by chemicals and microorganisms. When requested by Member States, WHO will support capacity building for data collection and surveillance systems. WHO will also establish common, internationally agreed formats for harmonized data collection and determine the minimal data requirements for future food safety initiatives in the regions. WHO will seek to develop a web-based system to collect, report and communicate data from surveys conducted in Member States. Global Foodborne Infections Network (GFN), a surveillance system for Salmonella and antimicrobial resistance, already exists.