Food safety

National burden of foodborne diseases study

Call for expressions of interest to conduct a study

Foodborne diseases (FBDs) are a growing public health problem worldwide, encompassing a broad range of illnesses. Data from surveillance systems and sentinel sites indicate a high disease burden for FBDs. Such data, however, tend to show only the tip of the iceberg, and refer mostly to diseases caused by microorganisms, not including chemical contaminants or parasites.

In order to address this data gap, WHO established the Food Disease Burden Epidemiology Reference Group (FERG) which is mandated to estimate the global burden of foodborne diseases. In addition to global systematic reviews on individual foodborne hazards, WHO FERG is launching a first round of burden of disease studies at the country level. This is done through the FERG's Country Study Task Force which is developing protocols for national burden of disease studies as well as policy situation analyses.

The benefits and resource implications for countries participating in such studies are outlined in the Overview document (see below). WHO is in the process of raising funds for non-industrialized countries to assist with the planning and implementation of these studies.

Anticipated uses of information obtained through a national burden of disease study are:

  • Detailed knowledge of the burden of FBDs from microbial and chemical hazards in the country;
  • Knowledge to adequately prioritize food safety at the country level;
  • Provision of an epidemiological baseline against which future food safety interventions can be evaluated;
  • Information for harmonization of internal trade and regulatory standards;
  • Assessment of equivalence of food safety controls for import and export risk assessments, and;
  • Contribution to the global estimates of the FERG burden of FBDs estimates.

Steps and preparation for the national burden of disease studies

Considering the complexity of the proposed task, some steps will be necessary to lay down the logistic and conceptual foundations in the countries conducting the studies:

  • Initial workshop: a workshop for initial engagement will be held involving the government, scientific stakeholders and end users to discuss the purpose of the study, develop an understanding for the need for FBDs burden data, outline study protocols and create a work-plan and timetable.

  • Pilot study: in order to test the feasibility of the studies and adapt the protocols to country specific needs, pilot studies will be conducted which include a selection of hazards and some aspects of the full study. It is hoped that countries conducting the pilot studies will proceed to the next stage of conducting a full study.


The timeframe for each country study is anticipated to be 1-2 years. The country studies will be conducted in three stages:

  • Pilot studies are scheduled to commence in late 2010 and be completed by early 2011;
  • Review and analysis of the pilot studies (3 months), and;
  • Full country studies to commence in late 2011 and early 2012.

How to submit an expression of interest

Countries should submit their expression of interest to conduct a FBD burden country study by completing the template below and sending it to the following e-mail:

Relevant supporting documentation must be sent as attachments, leaving the body of the email to contain only an introductory message in which the name of the country must be mentioned.

Responses should be coordinated between government institutions so that each country submits only one expression of interest. The proposal should preferably be developed in collaboration with the respective WHO head of country office, which may be involved in the implementation of the pilot studies.

The final selection of countries will be made in collaboration with WHO country and regional offices and will be based on the submissions received as well as geographical representation.

Deadline: 1 November 2010

Required documents