Toxin producers and toxins

Unit responsible: 

Detection of toxin-producing bacteria (and their toxins) that are transmitted to humans through food.

Each year, thousands of people in our country fall victim to foodborne intoxications and infections commonly known as food poisoning. We analyse food samples that may be the cause of such foodborne intoxications and infections to identify food pathogens and their toxins. In this context we also analyse samples of human origin and environmental samples. We do all this to establish the source of the infection or intoxication so that adequate preventive measures can be taken to prevent further infections or intoxications.

In a public health context, we also check whether the food that is placed on the market complies with our national legislation on toxin-producing bacteria or their toxins.

Toxin-producing bacteria can have serious consequences not only for public health, but also for animals. We are responsible for diagnosing animal botulism, tetanus and infections with C. perfringens.

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Our work is partly commissioned by the Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain (FASFC) and the Federal Public Service (FPS) for Health. We are accredited as a National Reference Laboratory (NRL) for coagulase-positive staphylococci and NRL for Botulism. Screening for Bacillus cereus and its toxins is also part of our work.

Each year we report Belgian foodborne disease outbreaks to Europe (European Food Safety Authority, EFSA) and to the World Health Organisation (WHO). Based on the data collected, trends in foodborne disease outbreaks can be analysed, risk factors defined and preventive measures can be taken, which can make an overall contribution to public health.

We are accredited as an NRC for C. perfringens and C. botulinum and C. tetani and perform the initial diagnosis for infections with these germs. The analyses are carried out under ISO 15189 accreditation. For human botulism the in vivo test is performed as standard. In the event of outbreaks, we are also commissioned by Health Inspectorates to analyse samples of human origin for Norovirus, Bacillus cereus, coagulase-positive staphylococci, Clostridium perfringens and C. botulinum among others.

We monitor the population’s immunity against tetanus infections and provide doctors with more information on protecting patients.

In terms of animal health, we primarily work for ARSIA and the Flanders animal welfare service Dierengezondheidszorg Vlaanderen (DGZ), but also for veterinary surgeons. We analyse animal feed and organs from cadavers for botulism and are also responsible for diagnosing C. perfringens infections. For both C. botulinum and C. perfringens we detect the toxin-producing strains using a real-time PCR method. Further C. perfringens typing is performed using molecular techniques.

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