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ECDC publishes survey of National Reference Laboratories capacity for six food- and waterborne agents

16 Jul 2012
Survey on capabilities of National Reference Laboratories for six food- and waterborn agents

European surveillance of food- and waterborne infectious disease is based on data from National Reference Laboratories (NRLs), therefore a network of quality-assured referral laboratories in different Member States is critical for the early detection and response to outbreaks of food- and waterborne diseases.

For this, a survey was conducted in 2009 to form a picture of the availability and scope of services offered by NRLs in the countries of the European Union and European Economic Area with respect to six priority food and waterborne pathogens (Campylobacter, Listeria, Salmonella, Shigella, Shiga toxin/verotoxin–producing Escherichia coli (STEC/VTEC) and Yersinia).

The survey covered several topics: pathogen-specific methods used in the NRLs for detection and confirmation, further characterisation and antimicrobial susceptibility testing (AST); participation in External Quality Assessment (EQA) schemes; the relationship of the NRL with the respective national institute of health and training needs. The overall response rate was high (80% or more), making this survey the most comprehensive to date and providing a baseline for assessing capacity and identifying gaps.

The survey analysis showed that there is a lack of consistency in NRL’s capacity across Europe, with some European countries having little or no effective reference laboratory capacity to confirm or characterise some important food- and waterborne pathogens while some countries have high level capability to provide broad range of reference services. This divide represents a serious weakness regarding the early detection and response, particularly in the context of free movement of goods (food products) and people across Europe.

Although training and standardisation of methods and the provision of EQA systems emerge from this survey as an important support that ECDC can provide for NRL services, the fundamental problem is the lack of laboratory capacity in some countries to support effective day-to-day public health action. This report highlights the urgent need to harmonise NRL services across Europe in terms of methods and to ensure the minimum operational capacity required to contribute to a Europe-wide network for public health protection.

Read the full ‘Survey of National Reference Laboratory (NRL) capacity for six food- and waterborne diseases in EU/EEA countries’

Read more on ECDC site:

Campylobacteriosis health topic
Listeriosis health topic
Salmonellosis health topic
Shigellosis health topic
Escherichia coli health topic health topic
Yersinia health topic
Food- and Waterborne Diseases and Zoonoses Programme

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