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New global monitoring tool identifies food safety offenders

By Guy Montague-Jones , 05-Mar-2010

A new monitoring tool presented at a recent EFSA conference has named China, Iran, Turkey, the United Sates and Spain as the top five offenders in food contamination between 2003 and 2008.

Taking into account more than just the number of food alerts from a particular country, the new computer system is being touted as a tool to facilitate the adoption of the Beijing Declaration on food safety.

Signed by 50 countries in 2007 the Beijing Declaration urges signatories to develop comprehensive programmes to improve consumer protection and participate in the International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN) to share food safety information.

Identification

The scientists behind the new computer tool, which was presented last month at an EFSA-AESAN conference on risk surveillance of imports, claim it will help countries identify major food safety transgressors and detectors within their trading networks. They also say the program will allow easy handling of the enormous quantities of data that arise from food alerts and recalls.

Writing in the PlusOne open access journal, the system creators said: “Owing to the enormity and frequency of arrival of the data involved, the development of new monitoring systems is warranted to facilitate wider participation in food alerting and to provide early detection of potential ‘epidemics’ of contaminated foodstuffs (e.g. melamine in Chinese food products).”

Network approach

The new system takes a “network approach” that attempts to capture the complexity of global food safety, analyse trends, and predict the impact of interventions. Rather than just counting up food alerts, the software takes into account the number of reports received by transgressor countries and reporting countries (detectors) related to a particular country.

The computer tool is also capable of taking impact into account by computing the number of countries involved in a transgression as well as the number of alerts.

Worst offenders

Analysing data from the alert logs from the European Rapid Alert System between January 2003 and 2008 the program picked out some of the worst food safety offenders.

In descending order, the five biggest offenders judged by the total number of food alerts were Iran, China, Turkey, the US, and Spain. But the order was different when impact was taken into account with China taking first place as the worst offender and Iran dropping down the list.

To consult the data and read more about the methodology click here.

Source: PlusOne
4(8): e6680. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0006680
Network Analytical Tool for Monitoring Global Food Safety Highlights China
Authors: Tamás Nepusz, Andrea Petróczi, Declan P. Naughton

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