The World Health Organization appoints an MSU professor to study foodborne disease

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LANSING, Mich. (WLNS)—The World Health Organization’s Foodborne Disease Epidemiology Reference Group (FERG) researches and covers naturally occurring contaminants in our food supply globally, and update data on the impact food disease can play worldwide. The group also searches for ways to help control the spread of disease, and initially rid our food supply of harmful toxins. 

The World Health Organization has recently appointed 26 total researchers and food scientists across the world to help with their FERG studies. 

“Mainly, to estimate the disease burden,” Felicia Wu, professor, and researcher at MSU said, “that could mean how many people are dying from contaminants in our food supply.”

Felicia Wu works under the departments of Food Science and Human Nutrition, and Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics at MSU. Wu was one of the 26 applicants to be appointed to the FERG program. The World Health Organization brought together a similar group in 2007 that studied food health. 

“Every year across the entire population of the globe 1 in 10 people become ill with a foodborne disease,” Wu said, “and quite honestly that’s probably an understatement.”

The previous FERG group focused on some key toxins they found in our food like; Salmonella, E.coli, norovirus, pork tapeworm, peanut allergens, and cassava cyanide. 

The new FERG has a chance to look at previous studies and create updates to those research studies. Wu says the people who are most likely to die from a foodborne illness are children adolescents until the age of 5-years-old.

“Young children have the least developed immune systems to be able to deal with a number of these contaminants,” Wu stated. 

Wu told 6 News the goal with the second FERG group is to learn more, research, and get a better understanding of how many people foodborne disease impacts across the world. 

“There could be many more people becoming sick from eating contaminated food, and in many parts of the world where it’s not easy to find a clinic or a hospital we need a better understanding.” Wu said, “That’s why this second group was convened just last month, and I feel very honored and privileged to be a part of this group.”

FERG is supposed to meet in Geneva, Switzerland to research foodborne illnesses. However, amid COVID-19 restrictions most food scientists have started conducting studies in personal labs worldwide and just started their meetings online. 

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