safefood announces all-island forum to deliver harmonisation of food safety systems on island of Ireland

12 April. 2005. safefood, the Food Safety Promotion Board issued a report today highlighting the need for a complete and efficient food safety system on the Island of Ireland. The report entitled ‘Foodborne Infections and Gastrointestinal Diseases on the island of Ireland’ for the first time ever, examines the relevant surveillance data collected in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. It points to differences in the recording systems and the levels of infectious gastrointestinal disease in both jurisdictions and suggests key recommendations for harmonising the two surveillance systems.

As a result of the report, safefood also launched an all-island collaborative forum comprising the Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre (CDSC) in Northern Ireland and the National Disease Surveillance Centre (NDSC) in the Republic of Ireland, under the umbrella of safefood. This forum is committed to collaborating with the public health services, north and south, on the prevention and control of intestinal infectious disease on the island.

With Ireland suffering 3.2 million cases of acute gastroenteritis each year, or 8,800 new cases each day, safefood believes it is essential to marry the data from the two systems to provide a full all-island picture of the surveillance of infectious intestinal disease 

According to Dr. Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, safefood’s Chief Specialist Public Health, this step is even more pressing given the ‘heavy economic toll’ as a direct result of the illness.

“About 1.5 million working days are lost each year in Ireland due to acute gastroenteritis. In financial terms, this means we are losing an estimated £114m / €173.5m in earnings alone on the island of Ireland as a whole. Work towards harmonising the two existing surveillance systems and reporting structures will undoubtedly be of financial benefit.

“Gastrointestinal infections are a shared issue for Public Health Practitioners in ROI and NI, and the report shows that we would all benefit from enhanced collaboration. This study provides us with a way forward to achieve an all-island approach to both surveillance and effective control for the benefit of all.” 

The report found that Campylobacter (a bacterium primarily from poultry sources) was the single most common bacterial cause of food poisoning in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, and that the rate was consistently lower when compared to rates in GB. E-coli 0157 rates were similar in both jurisdictions, but much lower than Scotland and higher than England and Wales. Furthermore, exotic gastrointestinal infections from abroad were found to be rare, with only 2 cases of cholera and 7 of typhoid found on the island as a whole for the year under study.

Approximately a quarter of the salmonella cases were found to be imported from abroad, mostly from Mediterranean holiday resorts. The all-island collaborative forum met for the first time on 2nd March ’05.


For further information please contact

Sharon Murphy or Nora Lawton  
Tel: 01 6690030 

Fiona Gilligan
Tel: 01 4480600   

Notes to Editors

Full recommendations from the report are as follows

In order to achieve harmonisation of the two surveillance systems on the island of Ireland the following should be considered:-

  • The lists of notifiable diseases should be the same. The current lists of notifiable diseases may not reflect the current public health needs and their revision should be considered. Important individual pathogens (e.g. Campylobacter, Cryptosporidium, and Listeria) are now notifiable ROI since January 2004 only. This will increase awareness of the infections they cause and allow for better understanding of their epidemiology and public health burden.  In ROI, a sub-committee of the NDSC scientific advisory committee was established at the request of the Department of Health and Children to review the list of notifiable diseases and to make recommendations regarding additions or amendments to the current list. The changes became effective from January 2004 (Infectious Diseases (Amendment) (No.3) Regulations 2003, S.I. No. 707 of 2003). In NI, individual organisms are reported weekly from the laboratories, although they are not specified in the list of notifiable diseases. 
  • Common case definitions should be used in both jurisdictions. A decision of the European Parliament (Decision No 2000/96/EC) states that for the purpose of submitting data for the epidemiological surveillance and control of communicable diseases (as set out in Decision No 2119/98/EC) member states shall apply specific case definitions, which have been devised centrally with input from member states. Both jurisdictions should follow this recommendation. Case definitions compatible with those used within the European Union states would facilitate the notification process and enhance the comparability of data coming from the different surveillance systems. 
  • The notification forms should be standardised and a minimum common dataset for each disease/organism should be established between the two jurisdictions. This would assist uniformity of notifying practices across the island.
  • Common guidelines (e.g. the HPA guidelines) should be promoted so as to move towards standardisation of laboratory practice throughout the island.
  • Clinical notifications should be linked to data coming from laboratories or other sources. Data linkage will assist in removal of duplicates, complement missing information, and enhance the completeness of data obtained from different sources. This will be facilitated by the development of electronic reporting systems.

Source: ‘Gastroenteritis in Ireland, North and South’ study, jointly carried out by the Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre Northern Ireland (CDSC), the Department of Public Health Medicine and Epidemology – University College Dublin, the Food Safety Association of Ireland (FSAI), safefood - the Food Safety Promotion Board, the Food Standards Agency – Northern Ireland (FSA), and the National Disease Surveillance Centre (NDSC)