Around 2.4m cases of foodborne illnesses occur every year in the UK – up from the 2009 estimate of approximately 1m – the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has revealed.
The FSA said these new figures did not indicate an increase in total illness, or any new risk to public health. But they did provide a better estimation of the proportion of infectious intestinal disease that is due to food. The overall estimate for this type of illness, picked up from all sources including food, remained the same, at around 18m cases each year in the UK, it said.
New research from the FSA has also revealed that an estimated 380,000 cases of norovirus are linked to food in the UK per year. It said that the main transmission suggests eating out accounts for an estimated 37% of all foodborne norovirus cases, takeaways at 26%, open-headed lettuce on retail sale at 30%, raspberries on retail sale at 4%, and oysters on retail sale at 3%
Professor Guy Poppy, chief scientific adviser to the FSA, said: “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.
“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. For example, on average, an individual would only end up with norovirus once in every 15,000 portions of open-headed lettuce – that would take around 40 years. Oysters pose the highest risk per serving, with illness likely on average once in around 160 servings.”
The FSA said it could now use this new understanding of the significance of foodborne disease to inform future efforts to control and reduce the risk of infection posed to the public from food by all pathogens.
The FSA revealed this information had been obtained with its five-year study into the extent of norovirus in food, carried out by a consortium of UK scientists, and a further FSA paper which reviewed and updated the assessment developed during that project.