UK foodborne disease cases fall by 19 per cent

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Fsa Foodborne illness Food safety

Regulation, training and public information campaigns are having a
dramatic effect on thereduction of foodborne diseases in the UK,
with the number of cases of people getting sick fallingby 1.5
million over the five years to the end of 2005.

However, while cases of Campylobacter and Salmonella have fallen, E. coli and Listeria are on theupswing. The number of Listeria cases has almost doubled since 2000, a troubling indication thatmore work needs to be done in combating that pathogen.

The figures are contained in a Food Standards Agency (FSA) report, released ahead of theregulator's board meeting on 12 October. The figures, serve to emphasise the effects of anincreasing amount of food safety regulations over the past five years -- both at the EU and thenational level. The regulations are driven by the increasing public concern about the safety of thefood chain and have resulting in more costs and greater public scrutiny for processors.

The report reveals that 53,052 laboratory-reported cases of foodborne pathogens were reported in2005, representing a reduction of 19.2 per cent compared with the baseline figure for 2000.

The figure represents a reduction in the number of cases by 1.5m over the five years, 10,000fewer hospitalisations at a cost saving to the economy estimated at £750m (€1,112m), the FSAcalculates. The FSA has set a target reduction of 20 per cent by the end of this year for Englandand Wales.

The FSA now plans to up the tempo of its plan to reduce the incidence of Campylobacter in chickens.A previous study across the UK has found that an average of 70 per cent of broiler chickens sold instores are infected with Campylobacter. The FSA has set a target of reducing this level to 35 percent by 2010.

Meanwhile a preliminary evaluation of the campaign to reduce the overall incidence of foodbornedisease has concluded that the strategy had addressed the areas most likely to have an impact on reducingillness.

The strategy included food hygiene campaigns targeting reducing cross-contamination and thorough cookingand raising public awareness of the dangers. The FSA has also worked with egg producers, a strategy associated with a reduction in cases of Salmonella.

The FSA found that during 2000 to 2005 the number of UK laboratory reports of Campylobacter has decreased by almost19 per cent, while reports of Salmonella have decreased by 25 per cent over the period. However E.coli is making a comeback.

The FSA says Campylobacter incidences had a significant fall in 2003, with recent trends indicating that thenumber of cases each year has plateaued.

"The reasons for the decrease are not entirely clear but the food hygiene campaign and work to reduce levels of Campylobacter in poultry may have contributed to thisreduction,"​ the FSA stated.

The reduction in Salmonella is attributed to the continuing effects of industry actions to reducethe pathogen in both broiler and laying flocks. Outbreaks associated with eggs, particularly of non-UK origin, have not had asignificant impact on trends, the FSA stated.

"Following the issuing of advice on to caterers and the general public on the safe handling of eggs, these outbreaks have largelydisappeared,"​ the regulator noted.

Meanwhile E.coli O157 cases are on the upswing after a decline of 25 per cent between 2000 and2003. Provisional data indicate that the number of cases in 2005 was comparable to that reported in2000, the FSA stated.

"Recent large outbreaks of E.coli O157 have had an impact on reported figures,"​the regulator noted. "Infections and outbreaks due to non-foodborne E.coli O157 make a significant contribution, ofabout 50 per cent, to the figures."

The report also finds that the number of cases of Listeria has doubled since 2003. The reasons for this increase have not beenidentified, the FSA stated.

Despite the setbacks, the overall campaign has been successful, the FSA stated. With 10,000 fewer hospitalisationsaccounting for 38,000 fewer hospital bed days, the regulator calculates the cumulative economic savingto be about £750m.

The reduction is be broken down into £25 million in lower health service costs, £150 million reduction in lost earnings and direct expenses by those affected by the diseases, and £580 million reduction in the cost of pain, grief and suffering.

The regulator estimates that foodborne diseases are estimated to have cost the economy in England and Walesabout £1.4bn in 2005.

"The strategy has delivered substantial and significant achievements in a number of critical areas and a significant reduction in foodborne disease in theUK,"​ the FSA claimed.

Campylobacter is the highest ranked pathogen in terms of the total number of cases, hospitalisations andcost of illness. Salmonella is ranked second highest for hospitalisations, deaths and cost of illness.Listeria is responsible for the highest number of deaths.

In its campaign to reduce Campylobacter in UK-produced chicken, the regulator will be applyingsome of the strategies used in its campaign to reduce the general incidence of foodborne diseases.

The FSA's current focus in its Campylobacter reduction strategy has been the promotion of biosecurity on poultry farms.A further review of on-farm controls and slaughterhouse measures is due to be conducted. The planincludes providing guidance, training and resources to Meat Hygiene Service (MHS) veterinarians, meatplant operators and training providers.

A national database has been established to allow UK meat plant operators to enter their microbiological test results, to monitor their own data set and compare withnational trend data. The database also provides information on compliance with the microbiological criteriaregulations.

The FSA has also promoted best hygiene practice in fresh meat production and presentation of clean livestock for slaughterthrough presentations and leaflets.

The agency has developed a toolkit of guidance and resources to assist small catering businesses tocomply with the new legislation on HACCP-based food safety management systems.

The FSA has also channeled £5.5 million to train enforcement officers. A second round of grants will be made later in 2006.

Related topics Food Safety & Quality

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