Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Why is it so difficult to trace the origins of food poisoning outbreaks?

Date:
June 1, 2012
Source:
Norwich BioScience Institutes
Summary:
As illustrated by the 2011 E. coli outbreak in Germany, any delay in identifying the source of food poisoning outbreaks can cost lives and cause considerable political and economical damage. Scientists have now shown that difficulties in finding the sources of contamination behind food poisoning cases are inevitable due to the increasing complexity of a global food traffic network where food products are constantly crossing country borders, generating a worldwide network.

The backbone of the International Agro-Food Trade Network based on the 2007 dataset.
Credit: Ercsey-Ravasz et al., PLoS ONE, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0037810

As illustrated by the E. coli outbreak in Germany in 2011, any delay in identifying the source of food poisoning outbreaks can cost lives and cause considerable political and economical damage. An international multidisciplinary team of scientists have shown that difficulties in finding the sources of contamination behind food poisoning cases are inevitable due to the increasing complexity of a global food traffic network where food products are constantly crossing country borders, generating a worldwide network.

As consumers we are used to seeing country of origin labels on certain foods, but what about on products with more than one ingredient? A recent study by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland showed that 53 countries contributed to the ingredients of an ordinary "Chicken Kiev" in a Dublin restaurant. This diversity of sources is partly to blame for the failure to identify the sources of food poisoning outbreaks, and has lead to calls for international health agencies to initiate a system to monitor this 'human food web.' But just how complex is the human food web? What is its structure, can we quantify it, and what can we learn from it?

In the first study of its kind, published in the journal PLoS ONE, the scientists studied databases of food import and export to understand how 'food fluxes' generate a complicated worldwide network. They were led by Professor József Baranyi of the Institute of Food Research, which is strategically funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

Using agro-food import-export data from the UN and FAO databases, the authors chart out the worldwide food-transport network and show that it forms an amazingly complex transport web. With the help of network science methods they reveal that it has highly vulnerable hotspots and demonstrate that, without increased control, some of these are prime positions for making outbreak tracing difficult.

The research identifies a number of countries as being central to the network or holding particular influence due to the dynamics of the food traffic, and stricter regulation in monitoring food trade here could benefit the network globally. Countries that take in many ingredients, process these into products, and act as distribution hubs are of particular concern.

"We found that the current structure of international food trade effectively makes The Netherlands a combined melting pot and Lazy Susan, with the busiest link to Germany," said Professor Baranyi. "This could explain why the tracing of the source suffered long delays in these countries in two serious outbreaks in 2011. This could be observed in both the E. coli outbreak in sprouts and the dioxin contamination in eggs."

The findings are supported by two types of analyses: one is based on the graph theoretical analysis of the structure of the international food trade network that allows the identification of the network core using the well- established "betweenness centrality" measures of nodes and edges for this purpose; the other is a measure based on the dynamics of the food-flow on the network, expressing to what extent a country is a "source" or a "sink."

Given the demonstrated complexity of the human food web, this work also introduces and validates for the first time a rigorous, quantitative methodology to help with biotracing and identifying the sources of food poisoning outbreaks, a problem that is only expected to increase in its magnitude, complexity and impact, in the face of current globalization trends.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Norwich BioScience Institutes. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Mária Ercsey-Ravasz, Zoltán Toroczkai, Zoltán Lakner, József Baranyi. Complexity of the International Agro-Food Trade Network and Its Impact on Food Safety. PLoS ONE, 2012; 7 (5): e37810 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0037810

Cite This Page:

Norwich BioScience Institutes. "Why is it so difficult to trace the origins of food poisoning outbreaks?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 1 June 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120601103812.htm>.
Norwich BioScience Institutes. (2012, June 1). Why is it so difficult to trace the origins of food poisoning outbreaks?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 23, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120601103812.htm
Norwich BioScience Institutes. "Why is it so difficult to trace the origins of food poisoning outbreaks?." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120601103812.htm (accessed August 23, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Endangered Red Wolves Face Uncertain Future

Endangered Red Wolves Face Uncertain Future

AP (Aug. 22, 2014) — A federal judge temporarily banned coyote hunting to save endangered red wolves, but local hunters say that the wolf preservation program does more harm than good. Meanwhile federal officials are reviewing its wolf program in North Carolina. (Aug. 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Farm Resurgence Grows With Younger Crowd

Farm Resurgence Grows With Younger Crowd

AP (Aug. 22, 2014) — New England farms are seeing a surge in younger farm hands as the 'buy local' food movement grows across the country. (Aug. 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Drug Used To Treat 'Ebola's Cousin' Shows Promise

Drug Used To Treat 'Ebola's Cousin' Shows Promise

Newsy (Aug. 21, 2014) — An experimental drug used to treat Marburg virus in rhesus monkeys could give new insight into a similar treatment for Ebola. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Terrifying City-Dwelling Spiders Are Bigger And More Fertile

Terrifying City-Dwelling Spiders Are Bigger And More Fertile

Newsy (Aug. 21, 2014) — According to a new study, spiders that live in cities are bigger, fatter and multiply faster. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins