The number of food poisoning cases a year from known pathogens exceeds 500,000, revealed the new research. But that figure more than doubled when food poisoning from unknown pathogens were added to the total.
The FSA said the new figures were critical in understanding the true impact of poisoning. “The findings are important as official data for food poisoning cases significantly under-estimates how big the problem is, as only the most serious cases get reported,” it said in a statement.
“Most people do not seek treatment from their GP [general practioner], and not all GPs carry out tests for specific pathogens, so these unreported cases are not captured in routine surveillance data.”
Campylobacter remained the most common foodborne pathogen, with about 280,000 cases each year.
Most common foodborne pathogen
The next most common pathogen was Clostridium perfringens with 80,000 cases, and norovirus was third with an estimated 74,000 cases.
Causing the most hospital admissions was the pathogen salmonella, with about 2,500 cases each year.
Poultry meat was the food most linked to food poisoning outbreaks. It was implicated in an estimated 244,000 cases.
The second highest number of cases of illness was caused by vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds. These were responsible for estimated 48,000 cases.
Beef and lamb were third, causing an estimated 43,000 cases of food poisoning.
10M cases of infectious intestinal disease
While the researchers were able to identify about 0.5M cases every year attributable to 13 specific pathogens, 10M cases of infectious intestinal disease a year were not attributed to a specific pathogen. “If these cases had similar rates attributable to food, then this would bring the overall figure to in excess of 1M cases a year,” said the FSA.
Professor Sarah O’Brien, the study’s lead researcher from the University of Liverpool, said: “These findings will help the FSA to target its resources more effectively in tackling food poisoning. They confirm that the FSA is right to put campylobacter at the top of its priority list. It is the biggest food safety problem we have and more needs to be done to tackle it.”
Meanwhile, the Food Manufacture Group is staging its annual one-day food safety conference at the Heritage Motor Centre – Gaydon, Warwickshire, on Wednesday October 15.
More details and ticket reservations are available here.
Top four foods linked to food poisoning
- First: poultry meat (244,000 cases a year)
- Second: vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds (48,000 cases)
- Third and four: beef and lamb (43,000 cases)