Background: The Foodborne Disease Burden Epidemiology Reference Group (FERG) was established in 2007 by the World Health Organization to estimate the global burden of foodborne diseases (FBDs). This paper describes the methodological framework developed by FERG's Computational Task Force to transform epidemiological information into FBD burden estimates.
Methods and findings: The global and regional burden of 31 FBDs was quantified, along with limited estimates for 5 other FBDs, using Disability-Adjusted Life Years in a hazard- and incidence-based approach. To accomplish this task, the following workflow was defined: outline of disease models and collection of epidemiological data; design and completion of a database template; development of an imputation model; identification of disability weights; probabilistic burden assessment; and estimating the proportion of the disease burden by each hazard that is attributable to exposure by food (i.e., source attribution). All computations were performed in R and the different functions were compiled in the R package 'FERG'. Traceability and transparency were ensured by sharing results and methods in an interactive way with all FERG members throughout the process.
Conclusions: We developed a comprehensive framework for estimating the global burden of FBDs, in which methodological simplicity and transparency were key elements. All the tools developed have been made available and can be translated into a user-friendly national toolkit for studying and monitoring food safety at the local level.