Greater Food Monitoring Urged in Ottawa

CANADA - A food safety expert with the University of Manitoba warns, until we know what foods make people sick most frequently, it's unlikely we'll ever be able to manage the risks associated with food borne illness, writes Bruce Cochrane.
calendar icon 6 July 2009
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University of Manitoba
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Dr. Rick Holley, with the University of Manitoba's Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences applauds the indefinite extension of the Public Health Agency of Canada's C-EnterNet program.

The surveillance program tracks the health status of Canadians in a sentinel site in the Waterloo region in response to the consumption of contaminated foods to identify the foods and the organisms responsible for food borne illness.

Dr. Holley told the sub-committee on food safety of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Agriculture Canada has been far too reliant on data provided by the U.S.

Clip-Dr. Rick Holley-University of Manitoba

We are able to track the major food borne illness outbreaks and when they occur we don't capture anywhere near enough data to allow us to say conclusively that what we think caused the illness in fact does cause the illness.

Programs in the United States are organized and called active surveillance.

In Canada we do passive surveillance.

In the programs in the United States they have assigned folks who actually go out and visit with physicians and get physician patient records, take sample and ensure that the clinical samples are analyzed appropriately and actually take food samples from patients' homes as well.

We do do those kinds of analysis in Canada but only as far as the resources that are available to us will allow and we miss a significant amount of information in outbreaks.

Dr. Holley says about one in 120 people who suffer a bout of food borne illness go to the doctor and provide samples and the number of samples that actually make their way to the lab for analysis is fewer than that.

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