Despite the care and great responsibility exercised by the food industry in order to offer the highest quality and minimum risk for consumers, the risks of food infection occasionally become apparent, and food alerts are publicised in the media.
There was a very serious food crisis in Spain this summer, which was theoretically local in scope, and it did not become national due to thorough inspections being conducted in industries other than those related to the focus where it was first detected.
Fortunately, research and the chemical and pharmaceutical industry are providing the food industry and health authorities with the most easy to use, accurate and cost-effective analysis methods for identifying microorganisms which are harmful to human health.
Culture media enable pathogenic microorganisms to be identified and distinguished quickly and reliably by the absence or presence of colonies. Natamycin is used in these media to inhibit the growth of yeasts, to prevent the medium from becoming contaminated with other crops.
Natamycin is used in these kits, as well as other active substances, e.g. to identify legionella and brucella. In specific terms, natamycin is one of a group of chromogenic culture media which enable easy and swift identification of colonies of microorganisms that are dangerous to human health due to their intense colour.
Dairy products are checked for the presence of brucella, as well as meat from most livestock farming species. It causes the disease known as brucellosis, which is transmitted from animals to humans.
Legionella originates in water and its transmission mechanism is completely different from that of brucella. Legionellosis is not transmitted by drinking water, or through food, or from animals to people, or even between people. It comes from stagnant water that circulates through the large cooling installations of buildings, and is transmitted by the diffusion of the air that passes through these circuits to cool down.
As well as the local and national organisations in each member State, the European Union has the RASFF (Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed) protocol for notifying alerts between countries. According to data from this organisation, almost 4,000 notifications took place in the European Union in 2017. Almost a quarter of these were alerts, i.e. involved serious health risks warranting immediate intervention.
Speed in the diagnosis of infections at their source is essential for an effective response to a food alert, as well as communication between the company or companies involved and the authorities in raising public awareness of the alert and taking measures aimed at removing the contaminated food from the market as quickly and as safely as possible.