Sugarcane and Chicken and Radish Sprouts Create a Sampling of Country Food Safety Experiences

Sugarcane, chicken and radish sprouts: a sampling of country food safety experiences.
J Adv Nurs 2002 Jun;38(5):433-4.

One of the main purposes of the FAO/WHO Global Forum of Food Safety Regulators is to promote the exchange of information on approaches and experiences in dealing with current food safety issues of importance to public health and the international food trade.

Never before has there been an opportunity for food regulators from every region of the world to meet together to discuss positive and negative experiences on food safety issues that are of concern, on national regional and global levels.

More than 50 papers have been submitted by over 30 countries to the Global Forum. In the examples taken from country papers below, five developing and developed countries tell how they tackled specific foodborne disease problems or are improving food safety in general.

China: Northern China suffered several outbreaks of foodborne disease due to deteriorated sugarcane contaminated by Arthrinium species (a fungus) and their toxins. There were 884 cases from 1972 to 1989; 10% of the cases were fatal and most of the survivors are disabled for life through the action of a toxin affecting their nervous systems.

To tackle the problem, the Ministry of Health issued a notice on the prevention and control of deteriorated sugarcane poisoning, which was disseminated to every province in China. A health campaign for prevention was launched in all provinces in northern China. Local health institutions strengthened the inspection of sugarcane storage and the sugarcane market. As a result, no typical case of suffering from deteriorated sugarcane food poisoning was reported in the last ten years.

"When a food poisoning of unknown causes occurred, it is crucial to take proper action quickly and find out its etiology [cause]; and followed by the development of specific control measures to be implemented by local health workers. This will result in a quick and efficient control of the food poisoning."

Denmark and Iceland: In Denmark, a steady increase in the number of registered human cases of campylobacteriosis was observed. Campylobacter was highly prevalent in retail chicken products. Consuming and/or handling chicken were important risk factors.

The concept of risk analysis was used in the control of Campylobacter in chickens. Risk managers, risk assessors and stakeholders representing both consumers and the industry, collaborated closely.

The Danish Veterinary and Food Administration's research institute carried out a risk assessment. It was shown that the probability of contracting campylobacteriosis from chicken meals could be reduced 25 times by significantly reducing the number of Campylobacter on the chicken carcasses. This can be obtained by freezing the carcasses. Another interesting finding was that people in the age range of 18-29 were at the greatest risk of developing campylobacteriosis.

The results then were passed over to risk managers who are currently identifying possible management options and their efficiency in reducing the number of human Campylobacter cases. It is expected that a number of measures will go into effect in Denmark by summer 2002, which will significantly diminish the number of Campylobacter in chicken and hence reduce human cases.

Similarly, Iceland tackled an epidemic of domestically acquired human campylobacteriosis in 1998-1999 by controlling Campylobacter at the farm, reducing contamination levels by freezing poultry meat and educating consumers. Prior to 1996 in Iceland, only frozen poultry meat was permitted for sale in food stores. Then, regulations were changed allowing the sale of fresh poultry and sales increased. The epidemic was almost exclusively due to infections traced to the consumption of fresh chicken. In 1999, there were 157 cases of campylobacteriosis per 100 000 people in Iceland. In 2001, the incidence of the disease had dropped to 75.4 cases per 100 000 people.

Japan: Radish sprouts served in school lunches were implicated as the causative vehicle of E.coli O157:H7 in a large outbreak in Sakai City, Japan in July 1996. 9,000 people were affected and there were three deaths. Researchers found that the edible parts of the sprouts had become heavily contaminated with E.coli O157:H7 after the rapid growth of the bacteria at the time of germination of the radish, when they were grown from seeds soaked in E.coli O157:H7 contaminated water.

Two ministries (Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries with cooperation from Health and Welfare) developed a hygiene practice manual for radish sprouts production in fall 1996 (revised in 1998). The purpose was to improve the sanitation level in radish sprout production and to re-instill public trust in this food.

Supplied water and seeds were identified as critical control points. The hygiene manual says that seeds must be sterilized and tested. If E. coli is detected, a procedure for further action is in place.

Since the publication of the manual, "there [has been] no outbreak or sporadic case relating to radish sprouts in Japan."

Also, since 1997, large scale cooking facilities which prepare more than 750 meals a day or more than 300 dishes of a single menu at a time are advised to save food for future possible analysis in the event of an outbreak. Fifty gram portions of each raw food material and each cooked dish should be saved for more than two weeks at temperatures lower than -20°C.

Myanmar: In the early 1990s, Myanmar, an agricultural country, had some trade problems related to pesticide residues-mainly organo-chlorine-in food. Pesticide use is low, but is expected to increase with the change of the cropping pattern for high rice production and the extension of crop growing areas. Data indicate the need for careful control of the use of pesticides.

The Pesticide Law, controlling pesticide use on food and in the environment, was enacted in 1990 and procedures relating to the law were adopted. The Law will monitor the quality of pesticides in use and will control residues in food and the environment. A Pesticide Analytical Laboratory is being set up.

The use and import of many organo-chlorine pesticides has been banned and restricted in Myanmar. Other faster degrading pesticides are used and residues are well below the maximum limits set by Codex.

"In order to facilitate international trade in agriculture commodities, it is very important that an agro-economic based country, like Myanmar, observe their international trade agreements regarding food safety standards."

Vanuatu: Vanuatu, a republic made up of about 80 islands in the western Pacific, has no proper data on the extent of foodborne illness there. As is the case in many countries, it is thought that there are many cases of food poisoning in the country that have not been reported due to lack of proper reporting procedures, testing facilities and qualified human resources in the field of food safety. There are financial difficulties in running an effective food safety program, a challenge faced by many developing nations.

Preparing and growing food is done in traditional ways, but lately food safety has received greater emphasis with legislation adopted to ensure it.. The Food Control Act came into force in 1999. It regulates and controls the manufacture, importation, sale and distribution of food. The Ministry of Health, with assistance from the World Health Organization, has drafted a number of regulations on standards for the labelling of pre-packaged foods, food hygiene regulations and licensing and certification. A national Codex committee was set up in 2000 to introduce Codex Alimentarius Standards. These measures are helping to ensure food safety in Vanuatu.