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New EU project gets to grips with globetrotting germs [Print to PDF] [Print to RTF]

As Germany was struck by a devastating Escherichia coli (E. coli) crisis in June 2011, the dangers of transferring life-threatening disease-causing germs in food from one country to another once again hit the headlines. Despite the alarm however, until now very few studies hav...
New EU project gets to grips with globetrotting germs
As Germany was struck by a devastating Escherichia coli (E. coli) crisis in June 2011, the dangers of transferring life-threatening disease-causing germs in food from one country to another once again hit the headlines. Despite the alarm however, until now very few studies have been carried out into the actual danger posed by germs that enter the EU along with food. Step in a new EU-funded project that hopes to tackle pesky pathogens like E. coli head on.

The PROMISE ('Protection of consumers by microbial risk mitigation through segregation of expertise') project received almost EUR 3 million in funding from the 'Food, agriculture and fisheries, and biotechnology' Theme of the EU's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7). It brings together 20 project partners from Austria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey and the United Kingdom.

The researchers will take samples of food confiscated at major European ports and airports as well as at smaller border crossings and test them for the presence of bacteria.

As standards of hygiene in food production in many tropical and subtropical countries don't meet those applied in Europe, bringing foods into Europe from abroad can have serious implications for health. Martin Wagner, from coordinating institution the Institute for Milk Hygiene, Milk Technology and Food Science at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna, Austria, explains: 'In Frankfurt airport alone, about 22 tons of food people had brought with them on over 5 000 flights were confiscated over a 15-month period. And this amount is probably just the tip of the iceberg. The authorities at Vienna airport also undertake checks and frequently find food of animal origin that is being imported illegally.'

However, few passengers seem to be aware of these rules determining what you can and can't bring back in your suitcase. Moreover, even when a security check does uncover foodstuff, rarely is an examination into which bacteria the food contains and how dangerous they could have been carried out.

Martin Wagner outlines the two main objectives of the PROMISE project: 'We would like to make a survey of germs brought in together with food and we also plan to investigate the potential the bacteria have for causing disease'.

The project partners will also pool data from throughout Europe to enable an accurate assessment of the risks posed by contaminated food of animal origin and will build up an extensive database of bacterial isolates identified in the course of the work. PROMISE also seeks to improve communication between authorities responsible for risk management in existing EU Member States and candidate countries.

A single shipment of fenugreek seeds from Egypt is thought to have been the source of the E. coli epidemic in Germany in June 2011. It claimed 48 lives in Germany alone, before the epidemic spread into other parts of Europe including France.

All humans and animals carry E. coli bacteria in their intestines, and they are usually harmless. However, there are particular strains of E. coli that are capable of producing toxins. These toxins have the potential to cause severe, bloody diarrhoea, which may result in an acute kidney failure requiring intensive care.

To reduce the risk of contracting E. coli, before preparing, serving, or eating food, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) advises always washing your hands thoroughly after using the toilet or changing nappies, after handling raw vegetables, roots or meat, after contact with farm animals or after visiting a farm, and after any contact with faeces from household pets.
Source: Veterinärmedizinische Universität Wien

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Programmes

Countries (12)

  • Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Spain, Croatia, Hungary, Ireland, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Turkey
Record Number: 34415 / Last updated on: 2012-03-20
Category: Project
Provider: EC