Nuclear technology helps fight food contamination

Consumers are not always able to identify contaminated products by their appearance, taste or smell. This function is performed much better by food safety laboratories. The IAEA, in cooperation with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), provides all kinds of assistance to such laboratories around the world.

IAEA assistance in food testing focuses primarily on the detection and control of chemical residues such as veterinary drugs and pesticides. Many collaborative projects also include microbiological testing and pathogen detection. In the future, the IAEA plans to significantly expand these elements of its work.

From animals to humans

Some foodborne illnesses, such as salmonellosis, are zoonotic, infectious diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans. Salmonella and other pathogens often enter the food we eat as a result of unsafe farming practices, food mishandling and contamination during production or marketing. As James Sasagna, a food safety expert at the Joint FAO / IAEA Center, points out, food is the main route of transmission of many zoonotic diseases.

FAO / G. Napolitano

The cause of more than 200 diseases in the world is the consumption of contaminated food.

The staff of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) agrees. In July 2020, they published a report analyzing the causes of COVID-19 and other zoonotic diseases called Preventing the Next Pandemic: Zoonotic Diseases – How to Break the Epidemiological Chain. The report notes that about 75% of all new human infectious diseases are transmitted to humans by animals and that this occurs mainly indirectly through the food chain.

Despite the presence of infection, animals may look perfectly healthy, but after transmission to humans, it can lead to extremely negative health consequences. “Regular food checks for zoonotic pathogens are very important,” says Dr. Sasanya. – Who knows why, where and when the next pandemic could start? “When studying the problem of pandemic infections, food safety must be duly taken into account.”

Strengthening the capacity of laboratories

The FAO / IAEA Joint Center plays a key role in helping countries establish, maintain and improve food safety laboratories. In particular, the FAO and the IAEA have supported the establishment of a laboratory in Bangladesh for the analysis of veterinary drug residues. FAO and IAEA experts train laboratory staff to identify food hazards and control food for contaminants.

“It is good to see that the laboratory in Bangladesh, which started with a very limited capacity, is now able to provide detailed services to government authorities, as well as attract significant government support to ensure the viability of its operations,” he said. IAEA program. Director in Bangladesh Herald Cirilo Reyes.


Through the IAEA-coordinated Asian Food Safety Network, the laboratory in Bangladesh is collaborating with other laboratories in the Asia-Pacific region.

Laboratories in the Asian Network exchange information and analytical methods and participate in proficiency testing programs. This is extremely important for addressing food safety issues at the regional level and can be the basis for the development of emergency response mechanisms.

The FAO / IAEA Joint Center also supports the establishment and strengthening of food safety nets in other regions, such as Latin America and Africa. The IAEA Food Safety Response project is developing rapid isotope analysis methods in the laboratories of the FAO / IAEA Joint Center in Seibersdorf, Austria, and members of the network are being trained to apply these methods in the field. James Sasagna is convinced: “In the future, such networks of laboratories may make it easier for countries to respond to food safety emergencies, including foodborne zoonotic diseases.”

Leave a Comment