Potential trends in foodborne infections must be monitored after a decline during the COVID-19 pandemic, said Robin May, chief scientific advisor, Food Standards Agency (FSA). 

May said that data from the past 12 months shows a substantial drop in foodborne disease rates for four major pathogens but this is likely because of fewer patients going to general practioners’ offices and reduced diagnostic testing during the coronavirus pandemic.

May said understanding the true level of foodborne disease in 2020 and early 2021 will require detailed analysis, and the FSA has already started working on it.

The FSA is doing surveys on infectious intestinal disease during COVID-19 covering self-reported infection rates, access to medical care, likely sources of infection and related behaviors, as well as analyzing hospital admissions for severe illness where underreporting should be less of an issue.

May recommended that the FSA collect data from local authorities, healthcare services, and others to identify potential trends in incidence as the UK recovers from the pandemic.

During 2020, there were 49,222 laboratory confirmed cases of Campylobacter infection, 4,442 for Salmonella, 566 for Escherichia coli O157, and 136 Listeria monocytogenes infections.

A number of other studies in different countries have suggested a decline in foodborne infections because of COVID-19 measures, but all have warned about the impact of how the data is interpreted.

While presenting an annual update to the FSA board, May also revealed the agency submitted a bid to the Treasury, a government department which controls public spending, at the start of the year to create an infrastructure for genomic surveillance of foodborne pathogens.

If funded, the project will enable FSA, Food Standards Scotland, Defra, the Department of Health and Social Care, and UK Research and Innovation to use whole-genome sequencing technology to map wildtype and antimicrobial-resistant foodborne pathogens from farm to fork.

Such work could help link cases of foodborne disease to potential sources and help with understanding pathogen transmission chains within the food system. May added he was hopeful there would be an update on development of the project in the near future.

Source: Food Safety News