One third of all infectious diseases are transmissable through food

14 May, 2008. safefood has launched a new study into Infectious Intestinal Disease (IID) which will be the first in the world to use comprehensive DNA fingerprinting to estimate the level of foodborne infections. This unique study which will identify the DNA of the bugs that cause gastroenteritis and food poisoning, is being rolled out across the island of Ireland north and south and in tandem with a UK wide study.

Almost one third (30%) of all infectious diseases reported to the Disease Surveillance Centres in Dublin and Belfast are caused by a range of infectious agents known to be transmissible through food. This high proportion of infectious agents transmissible through foods, together with increased globalisation of food supplies and the increasing consumption of processed foods is necessitating new collaborative research.

The IID study was launched at the All-island Infectious Intestinal Disease Conference currently taking place at Clontarf Castle in Dublin. The aim of the IID study is to relate infections causing gastroenteritis to specific bugs, so that the risks which include those associated with the consumption of different foods can be estimated. The IID study will be carried out in tandem with a UK wide study, conducted in collaboration with the UK Food Standards Agency.

The IID study will follow up samples of the population for one year to identify all cases and causes of gastrointestinal infection. This mammoth task will involve nurses in GP practices keeping in weekly contact with 100 patients in each of the sample of 30 practices on the island of Ireland (20 in ROI and 10 in NI) included in the study.

Martin Higgins, Chief Executive, safefood commented: “The reduction of foodborne disease is an important public health target and whilst much research has been carried out, we are now facing new challenges. Foodborne disease does not respect geographical borders, and with so much of our food coming from global sources, it is important to collaborate to find common issues and share solutions. This study is a unique example of collaboration in this field of research with both the north and the south of the island as well as the UK and island of Ireland working together.”

Dr. Cliodhna Foley Nolan, Director, Human Health & Nutrition, safefood added, “When people think about infectious diseases they tend to think about diseases like T.B., but research consistently shows three out of ten infectious diseases are causes by infectious agents transmissible through food.  This IID study will use the most elaborate and sophisticated methodology to date worldwide in the form of DNA molecular laboratory methods to estimate the risks of these diseases. Investigating the DNA of the samples at this stage will allow the bank of information to be used in the future as methods become more sophisticated. Furthermore, the weekly contact with 100 patients in each of the 30 GP practices will provide in depth insights into what is happening in the community.”

The All-island Infectious Intestinal Disease Conference at Clontarf Castle, Dublin is taking place on 13th and 14th May 2008. The aim of the conference is to share strategies in the control and prevention of IID, and explore opportunities for all-island cooperation in research and technical guidance. The key areas for discussion include ‘Safe Drinking Water Perspectives’, ‘Listeria’ and ‘Zoonoses Groups*’, with a wide panel of expert speakers from the island of Ireland presenting and chairing discussion groups.


For further information please contact

Kate Fitzgerald/Niamh Burdett   Dermot Moriarty
WHPR      safefood
Tel: 01 6690030    Tel: 01 4480600

Editor’s Notes

  • Collaborators for the research project include Health Promotion Surveillance Centre, Irish College of General Practitioners, Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre Northern Ireland and safefood. 
  • The Food Standards Agency is funding the UK aspect of the study while safefood is funding the island of Ireland study.


  •  EU Zoonoses Reports
  •  *Zoonses diseases are transferable from animals to humans