Food poisoning trends in Europe

Tuesday, 19 December, 2017

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Although foodborne illnesses had been steadily decreasing or stabilising in recent years, an annual report by the European Union on zoonotic diseases revealed that this is no longer the case. After monitoring zoonoses in 37 European countries in 2016, the report found that infections such as campylobacteriosis, listeriosis and salmonellosis were actually becoming more prevalent.

Compiled by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), campylobacteriosis was the most commonly reported of the zoonoses, affecting 246,307 people. This means there was an increase of 6.1% from the previous year, and it was found most often in broiler meat.

But Listeria infections were found to be the most serious, causing the highest hospitalisation (97%) and mortality rates, leading to 247 deaths. These infections increased by 9.3% in 2016, but the report found that Listeria rarely exceeded legal safety limits in ready-to-eat foods.

While Listeria affected mainly individuals aged 64 and above, a more common bacteria that impacts the general population is Salmonella. It is often associated with consuming poorly cooked or spoiled poultry products, and since these foods are widely consumed in the EU, it is no surprise that the number of reported illnesses has risen. Despite decreasing in 2012–2015, the outbreaks of salmonellosis increased to 4786 in 2016, and there were 94,530 human cases of salmonellosis reported in the EU.

Salmonella enteritidis is the most widespread type of Salmonella, accounting for 59% of all salmonellosis cases in the EU. Since 2014, cases of S. enteritidis have increased by 3% in humans and reached 1.21% in laying hens. Eggs were noted as representing the highest risk agent for Salmonella, causing 1882 outbreaks.

“The decrease of Salmonella has been a success story in the EU food safety system in the last 10 years. Recent S. enteritidis outbreaks contributed to a change in this trend in humans and poultry,” EFSA Chief Scientist Marta Hugas said. “Further investigations by competent authorities in the field of public health and food safety will be crucial to understand the reasons behind the increase.”

The number of foodborne outbreaks have increased in general, but Salmonella was highlighted as the most common cause, with one out of six outbreaks due to S. enteritidis in 2016. According to the report, Salmonella was responsible for 45.6% of the total number of hospitalised cases and 50% of the total number of deaths among outbreak cases.

ECDC Chief Scientist Mike Catchpole stated that it is important to try to decrease the number of those affected.

“The increase shown by our surveillance data is worrying and a reminder that we have to stay vigilant. Even in a state of high awareness and with national control programs for S. enteritidis in place, there is a need for continuing risk management actions at the Member State and EU level.”

Image credit: © Marcinski

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