E. coli 'number one' as recorded food safety incidents rise

By Alice Foster

- Last updated on GMT

FSA head of incidents and resilience Richard Hoskin spoke at a conference this week
FSA head of incidents and resilience Richard Hoskin spoke at a conference this week

Related tags Bacteria

Food safety incidents caused by microbes continue to rise after E. Coli overtook salmonella as the “number one” problem, according to the Food Standards Agency (FSA).  

Microbiological contamination accounted for a quarter of recorded incidents last year, after the number of reports more than doubled between 2014 and 2008.

Not only have numbers increased but the nature of the species involved have also changed over time, FSA head of incidents and resilience Richard Hoskin told a conference in London this week (September 14).

‘Sharp increase in E. coli outbreaks’

“In recent years we have seen a sharp increase in E. coli outbreaks and that is the number one we are dealing with,” ​he said. “Previously it was salmonella and we started to see that drop.”

Microbiological incidents

  • 2014 – 390
  • 2008 – 186

Hoskin was quick to put the drop in salmonella contaminants in perspective saying it was related to restrictions on the import of paan leaves also known as betel leaves. 

“The drop in salmonella was directly attributable to action we took in relation to paan leaves coming in from Pakistan which we found were commonly contaminated,” ​he said.

FSA head of consumer protection Will Creswell attributed the rise in microbiological incidents to a range of factors.

‘More consumer dialogue’

“It’s better testing methodologies and it’s greater awareness by the public,”​ said Creswell. “There’s much more consumer dialogue about consumer safety and food issues.”

Campden BRI quality management systems specialist Richard Leathers agreed that public awareness had grown and said the FSA had worked to educate people about food poisoning bug campylobacter. ​ 

“We are trying to get people to cook chicken correctly. People are far more aware now about microorganisms,”​ Leathers said.

“If you asked everybody in this room to name five microorganisms you probably could, 10 years ago you would not have been able to.”

The FSA occasionally deals with serious outbreaks of campylobacter but most cases are reported on a localised ‘case by case’ basis. These cases fall outside of its definition of an incident.  

The comments were made at a product liability and recall seminar hosted by law firm Clyde and Co at its London offices.

Microbiological incidents 2014

  • E. coli – 159
  • Salmonella – 69
  • Listeria – 53
  • Bacillus – 15
  • Other bacteria – 20
  • Viruses – 15
  • Yeasts, moulds and fungi – 9
  • Other - 50

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