Microbiological Risk Surveillance of Food Safety in China
Food safety microbiological risk surveillance is a systematic activity which consistently collects data on foodborne pathogens including bacteria, parasites, viruses and other harmful agents. It also attempts to establish factors contributing to foodborne disease, timely detects food safety hazards and provides basic data for food safety monitoring, risk assessment and standards setting.
The national microbiological surveillance system, monitors the main microbiological contaminants the contamination levels and the trends among major food categories in China. It attempts to determine the potential sources of the hazards, their distribution, provides scientific basis for food safety risk assessment, standards setting, tracking and evaluation, and identifies potential food safety hazards and emerging threats to consumers health to inform timely risk mangment and regulatory control.
China National Center for Food Safety Risk Assessment (CFSA) is responsible for personnel training and quality control, providing technological guidance to the national food safety risk surveillance, gathering and analyzing the surveillance data, and identifying the food safety problems and identifying priority areas for surveillance . Each year before the national surveillance plan is issued, the CFSA organizes experts from epidemiology, microbiology, statistics and quality control to draft and revise the manual book to guide the risk surveillance work.
CFSA has been inviting experts from a wide range of areas, including food safety supervision, industrial management, food inspection and laboratory quality control, to form the surveillance panel. The surveillance plan should be determined according to the following principles:
1) Choose food products which could lead to bigger health hazards and higher risk
2) Closely investigate high risk food products which are more likely to cause health problems to special groups such as infants and young children
3) Include food widely distributed and consumed
4) Include food and items ever involved in the domestic food safety accidents or drawing wide attention from the consumers
5) Include food products involved in health hazards abroad and showing evidence of emergence domestically.
There are three types of microbiological surveillance: routine surveillance, special surveillance and emergency surveillance. The routine surveillance is characterized by its wide range, obtaining information on the overall microbial contamination level and its developing trends in food such as Salmonella in raw meat and Vibrio parahaemolyticus in fish. The special surveillance is set to explore contamination sources and critical control points, which include process environment surveillance and surveillance along the food chain, such as Cronobacter spp. These two kinds of surveillance above are closely related and complement each other. Emergency surveillance is initiated when a food safety crisis happens and urgent risk assessment procedures are required.
There are over 2 million pieces of data from about 500 thousand samples which covers all kinds of major foods and the also local ones related to foodborne disease. Surveillance items include mainly foodborne pathogens such as Salmonella, Cronobacter spp. Bacillus cereaus, Staphylococcus aureus, Listeria monocytogenes, Vibro parahaemolyticus, campylobacter jejuni and Clostridium botulinum etc., as well as hygienie indicator bacteria, such as aerobic plate counts, coliform, E. coli and Enterobacteriaceae. There are also surveillance of parasites which mainly include nematodes, angiostrongylus cantonensis, and trichina, etc. Norovirus is currently the only virus under surveillance. An information database of the main foods with microbial contamination in China has been established.
Through continuous technical training and exchange of experience, the food safety and quality control work has been improved rapidly. The nationwide network for food microbiological risk surveillance has been established with the CFSA acts as the technical leader, while the provincial institutions act as technical supporters and the prefecture-level institution as the technical backbone: the three-tiers of institutions work as one entity during the surveillance work.
From the continuous surveillance, a large amount of scientific data has been collected, and the basic contamination level and the developing trends in major foods, including meat and meat products, milk and dairy products, eggs and egg products, animal products, cooked rice flour products, and infant and young children food, Chinese salad and many other kinds of Chinese meals, have been established.
The surveillance provides basic data to inform actions which include technical support to risk assessment, standard setting, risk management strategies, education of the industry stakeholders and public information campaigns. Surveillance also yields valuable information for setting priorities for different projects, making surveillance plans, and building the standard of food safety.
To make full use of the food safety risk surveillance to maximize consumer protection, CFSA analyzes all the reported results, immediately organize examination activities whenever necessary and identify potential hazard in a timely and accurate manner.