Governments and the food industry make major efforts to ensure food safety throughout the global supply chain and support food availability. Experiences with Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) have re-emphasized the need for preparedness in many sectors, including the food sector. This position paper analyzes the potential introduction and transmission of pandemic viruses via the food chain and hypothesizes which new food safety issues could arise. Two scenarios, a gastrointestinal virus and a respiratory virus, were explored. Possible risks and economic costs of introduction and transmission, regulatory and analytical needs, and control strategies associated with such scenarios are described. Overall, if a pandemic virus associated with the food chain was to occur, our preparedness is currently lacking given our potentially limited knowledge of introduction and transmission pathways, as well as access to methods to detect the viral presence and infectivity and model the transmission of the pathogens, even though the economic and societal impact of such a scenario is likely extensive. The food and fomite component could be easily neglected or underestimated in a future pandemic. On the other hand, better tools to prove the lack of food chain transmissibility of a pandemic virus could also prevent unnecessary economic losses across the sector. In the event of a foodborne pandemic virus, food safety testing would provide a clear purpose to detect deviating batches, obtain monitoring data, and assess compliance to hygiene criteria; however, providing complete safety through enforcement criteria is demonstrated to be economically unfeasible; therefore, other control interventions will be needed. These messages are important for food business operators and governments to understand the possible analytical needs, opportunities, and caveats for food safety testing. Narrowing the knowledge gaps on introduction and transmission, and improvement of analytical feasibility is required to benefit our preparedness against the emergence and spread of future foodborne pandemic pathogens.
- Food safety
- Foodborne transmission