Food safety conference

Food industry must quell Ebola fears

By Laurence Gibbons

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food safety conference Food standards agency

The food industry should reassure the public that Ebola is unlikely to be spread via food
The food industry should reassure the public that Ebola is unlikely to be spread via food
The UK food and drink industry must communicate to the public that the risk of people contracting the deadly Ebola virus from food is unlikely.

That’s according to food safety experts at the Food Manufacture Group’s Food safety conference this week (October 15).

The risk of transmission of Ebola through illegal food imports has been identified as “extraordinarily rare”​, according to the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health.

However, if the industry did not stress this to the public, it risked people worrying about consuming food imported from Africa for no reason. That was the message from Neil Griffiths, director of the Society of Food Hygiene & Technology and chief executive of SVA.

‘Have to communicate’

“It is all very well saying that there isn’t an issue in relation to food,”​ he said. “We have to be sure that we are going to communicate it otherwise you’re going to get everyone thinking that there is an issue.”

Sarah O’Brien, chair of the Food Standards Agency’s Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food and a professor at the University of Liverpool, said: “From a public health point of view, the main risk in this country is deemed to be from people travelling from West Africa or returning from West Africa.

“It’s not easy to catch and in terms of the food chain I don’t foresee – at the moment – there are necessarily big risks that we need to be thinking about.”

Public Health England said the risk of the UK population being infested by Ebola from illegally imported food – such as bushmeat – was very low.

“Cooking will kill the virus, but there is some risk in handling raw bushmeat and the Food Standards Agency advice has always been that people should avoid illegal bushmeat as you can never be certain of its safety,”​ it added.

The virus is initially transmitted to people from wild animals and spreads through human-to-human transmission through contact with blood and body fluids.

People in the UK were not at risk of Ebola as the virus was only transmitted by direct contact with the blood or bodily fluids of an infected person, PHE said.

No cases of imported Ebola had ever been reported in the UK, it added.

Death toll

Since March 2014 there has been a very large and widespread outbreak affecting Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone – with a death toll of 4,493.

In late July, the first reported case occurred in the Nigerian capital of Lagos.

Meanwhile, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation has launched a programme to urgently assist 90,000 vulnerable households whose food supplies and livelihoods are threatened by Ebola’s impact on trade.

It is calling for $30M to support activities linked to the programme over the next 12 months.
Programme activities are organised around four key objectives:

  • To stop the spread of the disease through social mobilisation, training and awareness
  • To boost incomes and agricultural production to safeguard livelihoods
  • To build resilience of communities to disease threats
  • To strengthen coordination for improved response


The Food safety conference was sponsored by ACO Building Drainage, Activate Lubricants, AON, Detectamet, FFP Packaging Solutions, the Food Advanced Training Partnership and the Institute of Food Research.

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