Main content area

Analysis of RASFF notifications on food products contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes reveals options for improvement in the rapid alert system for food and feed

Lüth, Stefanie, Boone, Idesbald, Kleta, Sylvia, Al Dahouk, Sascha
Food control 2019 v.96 pp. 479-487
Listeria monocytogenes, consumer protection, data collection, databases, disease severity, food contamination, food industry, food processing, foodborne illness, foods, humans, listeriosis, markets, metadata, monitoring, packaging, public health, risk factors, supply chain, Germany
Tools for supranational communication of food safety risks like the European Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) play an increasingly important role in consumer protection along global supply chains. They allow for a coordinated response to emerging public health threats such as Listeria monocytogenes (Lm), the causative agent of the foodborne disease listeriosis. As a result of disease severity and the rising number of human listeriosis cases in Germany since 2011, an effective reporting system on Lm contamination in food products has become more crucial than ever to counteract this trend. Therefore, we analysed RASFF notifications on food products contaminated with Lm and distributed in Germany, 2001 to 2015, assessed trends in the reported data and addressed options for improvement in the current notification system.In RASFF Lm notifications concerning Germany from 2001 to 2015, there was often a discrepancy between country of origin and notifying country, indicating that the food safety risk was not always recognised at the earliest possible time point of the product's life span. In addition, in our dataset, most Lm notifications were driven by official controls when the respective product was already on the market. However, starting in 2005, there was an increasing trend for company's own checks. This trend of making food manufacturers accountable for the detection and notification of contaminated products in the production line is a first step into the right direction as it might help to reduce the number of contaminated food products that enter the market.Besides its function as a reporting tool, the RASFF may also facilitate the identification of risk factors associated with Lm contamination so that the problem can be tackled at its root. Unfortunately, information about packaging and food processing was only mentioned in a minority of Lm notifications. Hence, risk factors cannot be easily identified. In the future, a comprehensive database including additional metadata together with the RASFF notification should be established.Although a solid basis for the surveillance of Lm, there is still room for improvement in RASFF to speed-up the flow of information. This might help to identify food safety risks that can be harmful to European consumers much faster, more effectively prevent the spread of risk bearing food products and consequently reduce the burden of listeriosis.