August 24, 2021

Cinzia Pellicorio | Méreieux NutriSciences Italy


Foodborne zoonotic diseases are caused by pathogenic microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, parasites, prions and their toxins which may occur in humans as a result of the contaminated food and water consumption. Feedingstuffs for productive animals, animal origin products, plant origin raw materials, processed food and water are among the main sources responsible for food-borne diseases. They are divided into:

  • food infections caused by the ingestion of live bacteria and viruses (e.g.: Listeria monocytogenes, Escherichia coli, Norovirus)
  • food poisonings caused by the ingestion of bacterial toxins (e.g.: Staphylococcus aureus, Clostridium botulinum)
  • food toxinfections caused by the ingestion of live bacteria and their toxins (e.g.: Salmonella, Bacillus cereus)
  • food diseases caused by live parasites such as Trichinella spiralis, Taenia solium and so on. 

They can cause fever, abdominal cramps, vomiting, vision disorders, heart failure, respiratory failure and death.

According to the latest annual report on food diseases, published by EFSA & ECDC in February 2021, the foodborne diseases are increasing compared to the previous year and the most frequent were caused by pathogenic microorganisms already known as Campylobacter spp. (220,682 cases), Salmonella spp. (87,923 cases), Shiga-Toxin-producing Escherichia coli (7775 cases), Yersinia enterocolitic (6961 cases), Listeria monocytogenes (2621 cases) and West Nile virus (443 cases). 

In addition, numerous food outbreaks were reported (about 5175) responsible for 49463 clinical cases, 3859 hospital admissions and 60 deaths (+50% compared to the previous year). The main etiological agents identified were Salmonella, Norovirus, Escherichia coli, Yersinia enterocolitic, Cryptosporidium parvum and Campylobacter jejuni and the main sources of infection identified were eggs and egg products, bakery products, pork meat, processed food, crustaceans, vegetables and water. 

These data are very worrying and they indicate that need for greater attention to be paid to the problem because a good food safety record has not yet been achieved. This is also confirmed by the numerous withdrawals, recalls, border rejections and foodborne outbreaks published daily by the Safety Hud tool of Mérieux Nutrisciences, which reports an average frequency of 20 alerts/day concerning food contaminated by biological agents such as bacteria, viruses, toxins, parasites. 

The biological contamination of food is a very frequent problem that can occur at all stages of the food chain: from farm to fork. The food industry has a duty to provide food that is safe and fit for human consumption. For this reason, in compliance with the regulations in force (Reg. EC 178/2002, Hygiene Package 2004, etc.) and for the welfare of public health, is needed a strong attention during all stages of food production and handling and a responsible behaviour by the community (farmers, suppliers, producers, consumers, etc.).

Some of the useful tools to improve the level of food safety and to reduce the risk of foodborne diseases are: the risk analysis, the HACCP system, the good manufacturing practices (GMP) and a clear food labelling for the consumer.

The risk analysis (from Codex Alimentarius Commission) is intended as the set of knowledge and operations necessary to define the level of food risk, implement containment systems and take care of the exchange of useful information between all stakeholders throughout the chain (farmers, suppliers, producers, consumers, etc.). It consists of 3 interconnected and synergistic phases such as:

  • The risk assessment phase that consists of hazard identification, hazard characterisation, exposure assessment and risk characterisation. It serves to acquire knowledge of the harmful pathogens potentially present in food, to define the mechanisms etiopathogenetics and clinical frameworks resulting from the pathogen-food-host relationship, to assess the level of consumer exposure and to make qualitative-quantitative estimates of the probability and severity of the pathologies arising from them.
  • The risk management phase that consists in the identification and implementation of preventive and control actions such as GHP, GMP, GAP, HACCP, legislation in force useful for the elimination/reduction of risk and to ensure an appropriate level of consumer protection (ALOP).
  • The risk communication phase that consists in the exchange of data, experience, information, among all the actors involved (suppliers, producers, consumers, etc.), acquired during the risk assessment and management phases, in order to achieve the common objective of food safety.

The HACCP system (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) is a control system designed to prevent the occurrence of certain food safety hazards during food production and handling. In principle, it is based on the identification of each critical stage during the process of production and/or handling of food, on the implementation of appropriate control procedures (monitoring their effectiveness over time) and on the revision of the same whenever there is a change in the previous operating activities. It should be applied at all stages of the production chain and its implementation should take into account scientific evidence on the potential risks identified for human health. The methodology shall be based on the application of 7 principles such as:

  1. analysis of the hazards associated with the production of a food with evaluating the risk, the severity and the preventive actions.
  2. identification of critical control points (CCP) to be checked to prevent or reduce a hazard to acceptable levels. (e.g., processing temperature, storage temperature)
  3. definition of critical limits (acceptability values) for each CCP.
  4. definition of a control system (measurement and observation of parameters etc.) of each CCP.
  5. definition of corrective actions (procedures) to be taken for CCP out of control.
  6. definition of the procedures for verifying the effectiveness of the HACCP system.
  7. preparation and archiving of documentation demonstrating the correct application of the HACCP system

The elaboration and compliance of a HACCP plan based on these 7 principles is a basic requirement for the production of safe food.

The good manufacturing practices (GMP) is a set of rules and procedures (Reg. EC 178/2002, Hygiene Package 2004, etc.) to which each company must comply, to ensure that food is produced and controlled in accordance with defined food quality and safety standards, to minimise risks to human health. They must be applied throughout the entire production process and may affect every aspect of it. (e.g.: reception of raw materials and storage, control of the production process, cleaning and sanitizing of the environments, maintenance of tools and machinery, staff training, management of complaints and withdrawals etc.)

The clear food labeling for consumers: the food industry must ensure that information on the labelling of the raw material and/or the finished product is clear and easily understandable (Reg. EU No 1169/2011, Reg. EU 78/2014, etc.) by the final consumer, in order to protect the wholesomeness of the food until it is consumed. It is also important that the consumer pays attention to the information on the food in order to take appropriate food hygiene measures during its storage, handling and preparation.

Achieving the ideal food safety condition for the reduction or elimination of foodborne diseases is not an easy goal because this ambitious goal is also influenced by external factors that are becoming increasingly unmanageable such as climate change: a determining factor in the emergence of new pathogenic microorganisms. However, a collective commitment and responsibility can greatly help to reduce risks and consequences of foodborne zoonotic diseases arising from known pathogenic microorganisms.

Mérieux NutriSciences offers you support in all the abovementioned  acitivities, don't hesitate to contact us to learn more!

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