FSA researchers more than double 2009 estimates of UK foodborne illnesses to 2.4m cases per year
The increase is said not to represent a rise in the number of people getting ill, but instead in the number of cases that can be attributed to food.
A scientific review by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has estimated that around 2.4 million cases of foodborne illness occur every year in the UK – an increase from the 2009 estimate of approximately one million.
The new figures do not indicate an increase in total illness, or any new risk to public health, but are said to provide a better estimation of the proportion of infectious intestinal disease that is due to food. The overall estimate for this type of illness, from all sources, remains the same, at around 18 million cases each year in the UK.
These new studies and their accompanying models reveal:
- An estimated 380,000 cases of norovirus linked to food occur in the UK per year
- A breakdown of the roles of the main transmission pathways in food suggest eating out accounts for an estimated 37 percent of all foodborne norovirus cases, takeaways at 26 percent, open-headed lettuce on retail sale at 30 percent, raspberries on retail sale at four percent, and oysters on retail sale at three percent
- The revised foodborne norovirus estimate, combined with better analysis of how many illnesses of unknown cause are also likely to be caused by food, suggest around 2.4 million estimated UK cases of foodborne illness occur each year.
“This work gives us a much better idea of the role of food in the spread of all infectious intestinal disease in the UK. However, this does not mean more people are getting unwell, only that we estimate food is responsible for more existing cases than previously thought,” said Professor Guy Poppy, Chief Scientific Adviser to the Food Standards Agency.
“Most of this increase is due to innovative new research into foodborne norovirus. As part of this, sampling surveys focused on the five most common food-related transmission routes. Although the percentages may appear striking, the risk to consumers remains very low for most of these pathways.
“We are not changing our advice to consumers and businesses. Instead this research reinforces the need for the highest standards of good personal and food hygiene practices in catering establishments and at home to avoid infection.”
The FSA plans to use this new and improved understanding of the significance of foodborne illness to inform future efforts to control and reduce the risk of infection posed to the public from food by all pathogens.