The Royal Environmental Health Institute of Scotland (REHIS) has urged Scots to improve food hygiene standards to tackle what it calls the 'annual food poisoning epidemic'.
Although incidents of food poisoning in Scotland have been gradually reducing over the last ten years, provisional figures show that 7,147 cases were reported in 2005 representing an increase of more than 6 per cent compared to the previous year.
Speaking on the eve of National Food Safety Week (12-16 June), REHIS president John Stirling said that food poisoning remains one of the major environmental health issues.
"The 7,147 incidents documented last year represent just the tip of the iceberg," he said. "REHIS estimates that up to ten times as many cases in Scotland are not reported, meaning the true number may be nearer 70,000 an average of almost 200 cases every day.
We all have to remember that food poisoning doesnt just cause severe discomfort - it can lead to serious illness, especially in young children, the elderly and those with existing medical conditions."
He said that legislation has been implemented to ensure that all food businesses observe strict standards for handling and preparing food. Indeed, the elevation of food safety as an issue of the utmost importance in recent years has been reflected in the creation of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and various national agencies such as the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in the UK.
But according to a recent EU project researching ways to make the food supply safer, consumers still have little confidence in the safety of their food supply and remain sceptical and distrustful of the management procedures currently in place.
The implications of the study for countries such as Scotland are that despite an increase in regulations and safeguards over the past five years, public concern remains high and could put further pressure on government to take additional measures.
But what the REHIS hopes to highlight is that, at the same time, people are not taking enough care. While many food safety experts believe that the public has a fairly accurate idea of the risks associated with well-known hazards such as Salmonella and E. coli, they say that the risk associated with the lesser-known microbiological hazards such as Listeria and Campylobacter are underestimated.
This finding is a real cause for concern as Campylobacter in particular is both a common and increasing cause of food poisoning.
The Royal Environmental Health Institute of Scotland represents environmental, community and public health professionals within local government, health services, commerce and industry throughout Scotland.