Strengthening surveillance of and response to foodborne diseases


Foodborne diseases comprise a wide spectrum of illnesses that result from ingestion of foodstuffs contaminated with microorganisms or chemicals. Food may become contaminated at any stage in the process from production to consumption, and contamination may be the result of environmental contamination, such as pollution of water, soil or air.

Foodborne diseases are a growing public health problem throughout the world and cause a considerable burden of disability and mortality. WHO studies of the
global burden of foodborne diseases in 2010 estimated that 31 hazards (including viruses, bacteria, protozoa, helminths and chemicals) caused 600 million foodborne illnesses globally (95% uncertainty interval (UI) 420–960 million) and 420 000 deaths (95% UI 310 000–600 000) (WHO, 2015). The most common clinical presentation of foodborne disease is gastrointestinal symptoms. Other serious consequences include kidney and liver failure, brain and neurological disorders, reactive arthritis and cancer.

This manual describes how countries can strengthen their current surveillance and response activities for foodborne diseases, and integrate them in an existing national surveillance and response system. It will enable countries to:

  • assess the stage of development of their surveillance and response system in relation to foodborne diseases;
  • identify the priorities for developing the surveillance and response system;
  • make appropriate decisions about resource allocation for foodborne disease surveillance and response activities;
  • facilitate multisectoral collaboration between all the stakeholders involved in disease surveillance and food safety.

The primary audience for this manual is public health professionals, such as surveillance and response staff, laboratory staff and food safety staff, who are usually located within the Ministry of Health or health sector.

Other important audiences include: competent authorities with a role in food safety, including those responsible for the health of animals and plants or with a role in
inspection, trade and commerce; consumer groups; industries involved in the production and distribution of food; development partners, donors and international organizations.