Enhanced foodborne disease surveillance has been recognised as an essential tool to help reduce food poisoning by the World Health Organization and many countries around the world. The Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing established OzFoodNet in 2000 as a collaborative initiative with Australia’s State and Territory health authorities to provide better understanding of the causes and incidence of foodborne disease in the community and to provide an evidence base for policy formulation. It is overseen by the Communicable Diseases Network Australia, and is supported by technical assistance from the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health at the Australian National University, Food Standards Australia New Zealand and the Public Health Laboratory Network.
Aim and Mission
OzFoodNet’s mission is to apply concentrated effort at a national level to investigate and understand foodborne disease, to describe more effectively its epidemiology and to identify ways to minimise foodborne illness in Australia.
OzFoodNet aims to:
- estimate the incidence and cost of foodborne illness in Australia;
- investigate the epidemiology of foodborne diseases, by enhancing surveillance and conducting special studies on foodborne pathogens;
- collaborate nationally to coordinate investigations into foodborne disease outbreaks, particularly those that cross State, Territory and country borders;
- identify foods and commodities that cause human illness and provide information to food safety agencies for risk assessment; and
- train people to investigate foodborne illness.
Operation of the Network
Health departments from Australia’s States and Territories are funded to employ epidemiologists to focus on foodborne illness surveillance. A coordinating epidemiologist ensures a consistent direction and methodology for OzFoodNet through consensus.
The OzFoodNet central team is based in the Office of Health Protection, a division of the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing in Canberra. This team oversees the activities of the OzFoodNet Working Group.
Information sharing is crucial for the success of OzFoodNet. Network members communicate frequently about issues such as unexpected clusters of foodborne disease in Australia.
OzFoodNet analyses important data on foodborne diseases in Australia. These analyses enable the network to identify outbreaks linked to particular infections, and to help health departments to detect problems with food or water safety.
Through enhanced communication and cooperation, OzFoodNet has strengthened Australia’s capacity to respond to new foodborne diseases, and to find the sources of foodborne illness. OzFoodNet also has the capacity to help detect the possibility of deliberate contamination of food or water in Australia.
OzFoodNet’s contribution to applied research on current foodborne disease provides an important foundation for future work on issues such as microbiological risk assessments, surveillance for antibiotic resistance and the long term consequences of foodborne illness.