Food safety

Rapid sharing of information to protect food safety and public health around the globe

INFOSAN in action

The International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN) links together national authorities in Member States responsible for managing food safety emergencies. INFOSAN is a joint programme of FAO and WHO, with the Secretariat in WHO.

Recently, it was reported through INFOSAN that several batches of milk whey protein concentrate (WPC) (an ingredient used in the manufacture of food products such as powdered infant formula, juice, dairy beverages, yoghurt and sports beverages), were suspected to be contaminated with dangerous bacteria. The affected batches were distributed to many countries worldwide.

Of particular concern when products such as WPC are thought to be contaminated, is their potential use as an ingredient in other products that are then secondarily distributed, making it increasingly difficult to track and trace products through the food chain.

In this particular case, there is great concern because WPC is also used in infant formula and because the suspected type of bacteria is Clostridium botulinum. C. botulinum is a bacterium which under certain conditions form heat-resistant spores that can germinate and produce toxins. Ingestion of these pre-formed toxins can cause a serious disease, botulism. Infants are of particular concern, because unlike adults, ingestion of C. botulinum spores can result in colonization in the gut, germination and release of toxins. More information about Botulism can be found on the recently updated WHO Fact Sheet. Although the presence and exact identity of this bacteria have not been established beyond a doubt, the affected batches and products potentially containing them needed to be identified and recalled from the market. This is especially important since usual heat processing does not easily destroy the spores.

WHO, through INFOSAN, has been assisting Member States with the tracing of products which contain affected WPC as an ingredient. Information on product names and production batches has been shared, allowing national authorities around the globe to take appropriate measures to swiftly identify affected products and remove them from the market.

So far no reports of cases of botulism linked to this event have been reported through INFOSAN and the Secretariat is continuing to follow the issue closely with affected Member States.

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