Why is it so difficult to trace the origins of food poisoning outbreaks?
This graphic illustrates the complete International Agro-Food Trade Network in 1998. Credit: Ercsey-Ravasz M, Toroczkai Z, Lakner Z, Baranyi J (2012) Complexity of the International Agro-Food Trade Network and Its Impact on Food Safety. PLoS ONE 7(5): e37810. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0037810
As illustrated by the 2011 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 agri-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.
More information: "Complexity of the International Agro-Food Trade Network and Its Impact on Food Safety" was published in PLoS ONE 31st May 2012 dx.plos.org/10.137… pone.0037810
Journal reference: PLoS ONE
Provided by Norwich BioScience Institutes
- World prone to food-borne disease outbreaks: WHO Oct 13, 2011 | not rated yet | 0
- German salad warning after food poisoning deaths May 26, 2011 | not rated yet | 0
- Government tightening food safety standards Jul 07, 2009 | not rated yet | 0
- European E. coli confirmed in Arizona death Jul 08, 2011 | not rated yet | 0
- Small clique of nations found to dominate global trading web of food, water Mar 22, 2012 | not rated yet | 0
- Motion perception revisited: High Phi effect challenges established motion perception assumptions Apr 23, 2013 | 3 / 5 (2) | 2
- Anything you can do I can do better: Neuromolecular foundations of the superiority illusion (Update) Apr 02, 2013 | 4.5 / 5 (11) | 5
- The visual system as economist: Neural resource allocation in visual adaptation Mar 30, 2013 | 5 / 5 (2) | 9
- Separate lives: Neuronal and organismal lifespans decoupled Mar 27, 2013 | 4.9 / 5 (8) | 0
- Sizing things up: The evolutionary neurobiology of scale invariance Feb 28, 2013 | 4.8 / 5 (10) | 14
Classical and Quantum Mechanics via Lie algebras
Apr 15, 2011 I'd like to open a discussion thread for version 2 of the draft of my book ''Classical and Quantum Mechanics via Lie algebras'', available online at http://lanl.arxiv.org/abs/0810.1019 , and for the...
- More from Physics Forums - Independent Research
More news stories
A new case of the deadly coronavirus has been detected in Saudi Arabia where 15 people have already died after contracting it, the health ministry announced on Saturday on its Internet website.
Diseases, Conditions, Syndromes 12 hours ago | not rated yet | 0
(HealthDay)—Few randomized clinical trials have been done to assess clinical prediction rules for patients with lower back pain, and the trials that have been done are of low quality and do not provide ...
Diseases, Conditions, Syndromes May 17, 2013 | not rated yet | 0 |
A new, highly sensitive blood test that quickly detects even the lowest levels of malaria parasites in the body could make a dramatic difference in efforts to tackle the disease in the UK and across the world, according to ...
Diseases, Conditions, Syndromes May 17, 2013 | not rated yet | 0
(AP)—The World Health Organization says a yellow fever booster vaccination given 10 years after the initial shot isn't necessary.
Diseases, Conditions, Syndromes May 17, 2013 | not rated yet | 0
An increasing number of U.S. children are experiencing gastrointestinal issues that require interventions to resolve, according to research presented at Digestive Disease Week (DDW).
14 hours ago | not rated yet | 0 |
The latest makeover to a massive psychiatric tome honored by some, reviled by others and even called the "Bible" of mental disorders is being released Saturday with a host of new changes.
11 hours ago | not rated yet | 0
Big names in medicine are set to give an upbeat assessment of the war on AIDS on Tuesday, 30 years after French researchers identified the virus that causes the disease.
22 hours ago | 5 / 5 (1) | 0
For combat veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, 'fear circuitry' in the brain never rests
Chronic trauma can inflict lasting damage to brain regions associated with fear and anxiety. Previous imaging studies of people with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, have shown that these brain regions can over-or ...
23 hours ago | 5 / 5 (1) | 0 |
A ground-breaking advance in colonoscopy technology signals the future of colorectal care, according to research presented today at Digestive Disease Week(DDW). Additional research focuses on optimizing the minimal withdrawal ...
14 hours ago | 5 / 5 (2) | 0
Every cell in our bodies runs on a 24-hour clock, tuned to the night-day, light-dark cycles that have ruled us since the dawn of humanity. The brain acts as timekeeper, keeping the cellular clock in sync ...
May 13, 2013 | 4 / 5 (19) | 4 |