12 January - 20 June 2016

Food safety

02 July 14

Annual Report of Food Incidents, 2013

The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) has recently published its Annual Report of Food Incidents for 2013. Key points from the report were:

  • 1562 food and environmental contamination incidents were reported to the FSA and investigated in 2013. This was a slight decrease on 2012 figures.
  • Microbiological contamination accounted for 21% of the total number of incidents (with over 30% of these being related to Salmonella), and was the only type of contamination for which number of cases has been increasing year on year since 2006.
  • Environmental contamination incidents made up 15% of the total, with the majority (70%) of these being due to fire, and the remainder mainly to spills and leaks.
  • Natural chemical contamination led to 9% of total incidents, with the majority of these being related to either aflatoxins from peanuts and groundnuts or algal toxins from shellfish.

Key nutrient for Salmonella growth identified as a potential key to tackling the bacteria

Recent research at the The Ohio State University has identified a sugar and amino acid compound as crucial to the growth of Salmonella in the human intestine. The relationship between fructose-asparagine (F-Asn) and Salmonella is unusual in that blocking the bacteria's access to F-Asn seriously impeded its ability to "survive, grow and inflict damage"; most bacteria will continue to flourish on other nutrient sources if access to one is blocked.

These findings open up potential new routes for tackling Salmonella, for example drugs could be developed to block the activation of genes which allow Salmonella cells to acquire F-Asn. This would be particularly beneficial as an approach because, being so targeted to Salmonella, it could leave other gut bacteria unaffected.

There is further research to be done, and important questions must be answered regarding what human foods are particularly rich in F-Asn, and the optimal timeline in which limiting Salmonella's access to it would be effective as a therapeutic approach. Nevertheless, this finding is an important beginning that will hopefully lead to new and effective treatments. [FoodQualityNews, FoodSafetyNews]

Food poisoning in the UK

The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) recently published an analysis of 2009 data on food poisoning cases. The study aimed to estimate the number of cases of food poisoning that year, and provide a breakdown according to the pathogen responsible.

There are difficulties in obtaining accurate and comprehensive numbers about food poisoning cases, as these are often not reported to a doctor. The researchers therefore combined study data on infectious intestinal disease in 2009 (from the IID2 study), a thorough literature review, and information recorded about specific outbreaks, and used various mathematical modelling approaches to reach an estimate of UK cases. The proportion of these attributable to different pathogens, and to transmission through particular food groups, was then estimated via an analysis of UK outbreak surveillance data and published food attribution studies combined with insights both from IID2 and the earlier IID study from the mid-1990s.

Notable findings included:

  • Known pathogens cause more than 500,000 cases of food poisoning a year, and unknown pathogens at least this number again
  • Campylobacter is the most common foodborne pathogen causing illness (leading to ~280,000 cases), whilst Salmonella leads to the greatest number of hospital admissions (~2500)
  • Clostridium perfringens and Norovius contributed to an estimated 80,000 and 74,000 cases respectively in a year.
  • Consumption of poultry meat can be linked to around 244,000 cases per year; vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds to 48,000; and beef and lamb to an estimated 43,000

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