APH 1997, 55, 351-361:

Surveillance of foodborne illnesses in Belgium.

G. Daube, and F. Van Loock

Keywords: foodborne illnesses, epidemiology, risk analysis

Foodborne illnesses represent a major public health problem in industrial countries. The incidence of these illnesses is difficult to estimate. In the Netherlands a yearly incidence of 150 per 1000 inhabitants is estimated. That's why prevention of foodbome illnesses should be one of the most important tasks of public control services. To be able to set up priorities in the actions to undertake and to respond to international requirements, it is essential to obtain real data on our country and in particular to establish major risks in order to develop preventive measures and criteria for control.  Adequate statistics should be obtained on human illness, food products from animal sources, including live stock and their nourishment.

A great number of initiatives are being developed on international and national level.  In order to co-ordinate the initiatives in the Belgian context, a working group called "foodborne illnesses " has been set up, with several administrations and research centres.  Through the group, every actor can provide and extract information. To facilitate the exchanges, two inspection services jointly developed a questionnaire in the framework of the working group. Data are centralised by the epidemiology service of the Scientific Institute of Public Health - Louis Pasteur. Field investigations schould be made in order to precise the nature of the risk factors and their relative importance.

In order to quickly locate outbreaks of foodborne illnesses and to start field investigations, the Laboratory for microbiology of animal food products at the Université de Liège, hosting the national reference laboratory for animal food products, centralises and diffuses data concerning the most important food pathogens.

To obtain recent data about animal contamination and animal feed contamination by human pathogens, information will be gathered by the Veterinary and Agrochemical Research Center (V.A.R.C.).

A methodology of risk analysis should be established by a specialised working group once the relevant data are available to optimise the collected information about patients, food, food production could be optimised.

The final objective of the working group is the implementation of a surveillance system for all risk factors concerned with the development of foodborne illnesses, including an early waming system and an efficient analysis of microbiological criteria relating to human health, food and foodproduction, including live stock. An essential element of this surveillance is communication of the results, risks and measures for prevention to all the departments, institutions and public health authorities.