RIVM researchers Arie Havelaar and Arno Swart received the prestigious Best Paper Award 2014 of the Society for Risk Analysis. This prize is awarded annually for the best paper of the year in the journal Risk Analysis.

Food safety

Our health depends crucially on the safety of the food we ingest. Maintaining the highest standard in food safety for the Netherlands and in international context is a core topic of concern of RIVM. We collect relevant information on risks in the food chain and help with outbreak control of foodborne pathogens. We do research on risk assessment of foodborne pathogens to support policy decisions in public health.

In their price winning paper, researchers Havelaar and Swart, reported about a mathematical modelling study on health risks of microbial pathogens in food.  Such risk assessment models are based on detailed food chain descriptions, including knowledge of how ingestion of pathogens impacts human health.

Assessing health risks foodborne pathogens

Havelaar and Swart showed that if a certain level of acquired immunity against a circulating pathogen is present in the population, disease risks may be reduced and effects of reducing exposure may even lead to more illness and a higher disease burden. This is further complicated by the additional effect of exposure doses on becoming ill when colonized by a pathogen. Potentially, these conclusions have large implications for policy decisions on how to deal with foodborne pathogens like Campylobacter, which annually cause a high burden of enteric illness in the Netherlands. Not only does acquired immunity render interventions less effective, it also makes them less cost-effective, hence not giving us a bang for a buck. On the other hand, the epidemiological studies on which attribution to specific exposure sources is based are also biased by immunity and it has not yet been evaluated how the final balance will turn out to be.

Follow up

The laureates will continue their successful research in the recently started project Acquired Immunity Models for Microbial Risk Assessment (AIM-MRA) funded within the focus area Mathematical Disease Modelling of RIVM Strategic Programme SPR. With this programme RIVM is contributing to the development of expertise and innovative research projects, to prepare RIVM for questions that may arise in future.