Sciensano & Food-borne illness

Last updated on 15-6-2022 by Marinka Vangenck

To avoid food-borne illnesses, observe hygiene rules and the cold and heat chain. If you suspect a food to be the cause of a food-borne illness, keep it refrigerated and contact the Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain (FASFC): or 0800 13 550. If symptoms persist or worsen, contact your general practitioner. 

What does Sciensano do?

The main purpose of monitoring food-borne illnesses is to trace back their cause in order to take preventive measures to avoid other cases and limit the number of victims. 

Various Sciensano's services contribute to the monitoring of food-borne illnesses:

Sciensano works among others with the Federal Agency for the Security of the Food Chain (FASFC), the hygiene inspector doctors, the FPS Health, Security of the Food Chain and Environment and the universities. 

The Food-Borne Illness Platform allows all the players within the Belgian system to exchange information on food-borne illnesses and come up with possible improvements. 

DID YOU KNOW? Outbreaks of food-borne illnesses are illnesses that must be declared. For botulism and listeriosis, individual cases must be declared.

Foodborne pathogens

The Foodborne pathogens service hosts the National Reference Laboratories (NRL) and the National Reference Centres (NRC) for the following pathogens:

  • NRL Food poisoning
  • NRL Salmonella in food
  • NRL Campylobacter
  • NRL Listeria monocytogenes
  • NRL Staphylococcus + Coagulase 
  • NRL Escherichia coli verocytotoxinogen in food
  • NRC Clostridium perfringens and Clostridium botulinum (confirmation of a medical diagnosis)
  • NRL Antimicrobial resistance
  • NRL bivalve mollusc
  • NRL Botulism (confirmation of a food and veterinary diagnosis)
  • NRL Toxoplasmosis (confirmation of a medical diagnosis)
  • NRC Norovirus.

Sciensano’s Foodborne pathogens service contributes to the investigation of food-borne illnesses via:

  • the analysis of food samples sent by the Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain (FASFC) to detect pathogens 
  • the analysis of human samples sent by the different communities during food-borne infections outbreaks to link them to detected food-borne pathogens
  • the detection of toxins or virulence factors of food-borne pathogens
  • the comparison of food and human strains by molecular methods to demonstrate the link between the illness and consumption of a contaminated food
  • studies into the resistance of food-borne pathogens to antibiotics. 

The information collected in the context of the study of food-borne pathogens makes it possible to define risk factors and to take preventive measures in order to protect the population.

Bacterial diseases

The Bacterial diseases service hosts the National Reference Centres (NRC) for the following pathogens:

  • NRC Salmonella and Shigella
  • NRC Neisseria meningitidis
  • NCR Listeria monocytogenes
  • NCR Mycobacteria.

For zoonotic bacteria (Salmonella, Listeria and Shigella), Sciensano’s Bacterial Diseases service contributes to the investigation of food-borne illnesses via: 

  • the monitoring of trends in salmonellosis and listeriosis in the human population
  • the identification of types of pathogenic bacteria (microbiological and molecular typing)
  • the study of the resistance of bacteria of human origin to antibiotics.

Residues and Chemical Contaminants

Sciensano’s Residues and Chemical Contaminants service hosts the following National Reference Laboratories (NRL):

  • NRLs for pesticides, multi-residue methods (MRM)
  • NRLs for pesticides, single residue methods (SRM)
  • NRLs for pesticides in cereals and feed
  • NRLs for pesticides in foodstuffs of animal origin with a high fat content (NRLs for Belgium and Luxembourg)
  • NRLs for the detection of PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and PAH (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon) in food and the environment..

Sciensano’s Residues and Chemical Contaminants service contributes to the investigation of food-borne illnesses via:

  • the study of health risks associated with the presence of toxic substances in food (marine toxins, Bacillus cereus emetic toxin and coagulase-positive Staphylococcus, histamine).

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