Zoonoses in Europe, EFSA and ECDC report


The report on zoonoses in the European Union in 2018 – by theEuropean Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and theEuropean Centre for DiseasePrevention and Control(ECDC) – was published on 12.12.19. (1) Food safety risks would be said to be elsewhere.

Food toxins in the EU. Fear dominates over the actual data

A foodborne toxin outbreak occurs when at least two people contract the same disease as a result of consuming the same contaminated food or drink. The number of cases recorded by member states in 2018 is relatively low, as 5,146 outbreaks affected 48,365 individuals. That is one in 10,610 people, compared with a population of 513.5 million (Eurostat, 2018 data).

However, 30 percent of Europeans consider food poisoning from bacteria to be among the top five food safety concerns (see EFSA report for Eurobarometer, 7.6.19). Therefore, public education for prevention appears to be the way forward, with the dual goal of promoting the adoption of good hygiene practices that can reduce risks while reassuring the public in this regard.

The most prevalent bacteria in the EU

Salmonella was the cause of nearly one in three outbreaks in 2018. Slovakia, Spain and Poland registered 67 percent of the 1,581 cases. These outbreaks were mainly attributable to egg consumption. Salmonellosis was the second most commonly reported gastrointestinal infection in humans in the EU after campylobacteriosis. (2)

In contrast, STEC(Shiga-toxin producing Escherichia coli) became the third most common cause of foodborne zoonoses in 2018, surpassing yersiniosis, with a 37 percent increase over 2017. This finding can be partly explained by the spread of new analytical technologies, which facilitate strain identification.

Listeriosis, in 2018, recorded a similar number of cases as in 2017. (3) Although there is evidence of an upward trend in the last decade compared to the previous one. The report also reports data on Mycobacterium bovis, Brucella, Yersinia, Trichinella, Echinococcus, Toxoplasma, rabies, Coxiella burnetii (Q fever) and tularemia.

Food security in Europe

Food safety in Europe is confirmed, on balance, to have reached an appreciable level of assurance. Light years away from the U.S., where foodborne diseases affect 48 million people annually, with 128 thousand hospitalizations and 3 thousand deaths (source Center for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC). That is 1 in 6 individuals, a Russian roulette with a 6-shot drum (compared with a population of 328.2 million. Source US Census Bureau).

Moreover, official public controls are set to improve-so it is hoped-thanks to EU Regulation 2017/625. Rather, more attention will have to come to the chemical safety of food. Specifically, to risks involving:

(a) agrotoxics, to be reevaluated in light of current rather than theoretical uses, the so-called cocktail effect andimpact on the microbiome,

(b) Endocrine disruptors and other toxic chemicals, in agrotoxics and MOCAs (Materials and Objects Intended to Come into Contact with Food) in particular,

(c) Microplastics and nanoplastics, in water as well as in food.

Dario Dongo


(1) EFSA (2019). The European Union One Health Zoonoses Report, doi: 2903/j.efsa.2019.5926, https://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/pub/5926

(2) Previous EFSA and ECDC reports note increasing problems of antibiotic resistance in both some Campylobacter and Salmonella strains. V. https://www. greatitalianfoodtrade.it/ safety/resistance-to-antibiotics-there-is-no-time-to-lose-report-oms, https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/salute/salmonella-e-antibiotico-resistenza

(3) It is worth mentioning the Listeria outbreak belatedly notified by Spain on 16.8.19 to the European Commission. See previous article https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/sicurezza/listeria-l-epidemia-spagnola-e-le-colpe-di-bruxelles

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Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.