ROME – The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is developing new guidelines to help countries control 10 foodborne parasites that are having the greatest global impact.

The FAO, in coordination with the World Health Organization (WHO), found that information about these particular parasites was lacking despite their social costs and global impacts. The 10 parasites sicken millions of people every year causing epilepsy, anaphylactic shock, amoebic dysentery and other illnesses.

The top 10 foodborne parasites are:

• Taenia solium (pork tapeworm): In pork
• Echinococcus granulosus (hydatid worm or dog tapeworm): In fresh produce
• Echinococcus multilocularis (a type of tapeworm): In fresh produce
• Toxoplasma gondii (protozoa): In meat from small ruminants, pork, beef, game meat (red meat and organs)
• Cryptosporidium spp.(protozoa): In fresh produce, fruit juice, milk
• Entamoeba histolytica (protozoa): In fresh produce
• Trichinella spiralis (pork worm): In pork
• Opisthorchiidae (family of flatworms): In freshwater fish
• Ascaris spp. (small intestinal roundworms): In fresh produce
• Trypanosoma cruzi (protozoa): In fruit juices

"Obviously, this top 10 is a more general, global perspective and does not necessarily reflect parasite rankings at a national level where each country may have more precise information," said Renata Clarke, head of food safety and quality at FAO. "But considering the problems they cause, these parasites do not get the attention they deserve. We hope that by releasing a top ten ranking we can increase awareness among policy makers, the media and the general public about this major public health issue."

The Codex Alimentarius Commission requested the list and supporting documentation. FAO said 22 nations and one regional body participated in gathering information, and 21 experts analyzed the impact of foodborne parasites. An initial list of 93 parasites was developed. FAO and WHO then narrowed down the list to the 24 most-damaging parasites based on number of global illnesses; global distribution; acute morbidity; chronic morbidity and economic impact.

The Codex Committee on Food Hygiene is developing new guidelines for the control of these parasites while FAO and WHO provide scientific and technical information. Ultimately, the organizations aim to develop new standards for the global food trade that will help countries control the presence of these parasites in the food chain.