OzFoodNet - A network to enhance surveillance of foodborne diseases across Australia

Enhanced foodborne disease surveillance is essential to help reduce food poisoning incidence.

In Australia, the Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing established OzFoodNet in 2000 as a collaborative project with State and Territory health authorities to provide:

  • A better understanding of the causes and incidence of foodborne disease in the community
  • An evidence base for policy formulation

Health departments from all states and territories are funded to employ one or more epidemiologists to focus solely on foodborne illness surveillance in their jurisdiction.

OzFoodNet is overseen by the Communicable Disease Network of Australia and supported by technical assistance from:

Mission and aims

The mission of OzFoodNet is to apply a concentrated effort at a national level to investigate and understand foodborne disease, to describe more effectively its epidemiology and to provide better evidence of how to minimise foodborne illness in Australia.

OzFoodNet aims to:

  1. Estimate the incidence and cost of foodborne illness in Australia.
  2. Improve understanding of the epidemiology of foodborne disease by enhancing surveillance and conducting special studies on foodborne pathogens.
  3. Identify inappropriate practices in domestic and commercial settings which lead to food contamination and foodborne illness.
  4. Assess the efficacy of current and proposed food hygiene standards and their enforcement by jurisdictions.
  5. Provide data that is essential for future risk assessments and policy interventions.
  6. Train people to investigate foodborne illness.

Surveillance data

  • On a state and territory level, types of data OzFoodNet analyse include:
  • Rapid reports of outbreaks to identify emerging problems,
  • Summary reports of outbreaks to reveal common problems with food
  • Notifications of foodborne infections to health agencies.

These will detect any changes in the incidence of common foodborne diseases.

These data also have the ability to identify industry sectors responsible for outbreaks of foodborne illness. In areas where there are repeated problems, information is passed to State and Territory authorities for action and to the National Technical Advisory Group.

Hunter New England OzFoodNet

A sentinel site for the surveillance of foodborne disease was first established in the Hunter in 1999. The success of this project contributed to the subsequent formation of the national OzFoodNet network.

The Hunter New England site now has a full time coordinating epidemiologist, one part-time interviewer and a part-time medical epidemiologist. In addition to the investigation of local outbreaks and clusters, the Hunter New England team contributes to national case control studies and projects.

Summary

Through enhanced communication and cooperation between jurisdictions, OzFoodNet provides a network for responding to nationally important new and emerging foodborne diseases, monitoring the burden of these illnesses and identifying the sources of specific foodborne outbreaks.