Professor Jozsef Baranyi of the Institute of Food Research in Norwich, England, and colleagues used agri-food import-export data from the databases of the United Nations and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations to chart out the worldwide food-transport network.
A recent study by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland showed 53 countries contributed to the ingredients of an ordinary Chicken Kiev in a Dublin, Ireland, restaurant, Baranyi said.
The researchers identified a number of countries as being central to the network or holding particular influence due to the dynamics of the food traffic. Stricter regulation in monitoring food trade in these key countries could benefit the network globally, the study said.
Countries that take in many ingredients, process these into products, and act as distribution hubs are of particular concern, Baranyi said.
"We found that the current structure of international food trade effectively makes The Netherlands a combined melting pot and Lazy Susan, with the busiest link to Germany," Baranyi said in a statement. "This could explain why the tracing of the source suffered long delays in these countries in two serious E. coli outbreaks in 2011."
The findings were published in the journal PLoS ONE.