Campy overestimates: FSA accused of undermining meat industry

Alex Black of FG Insight reports the UK Association of Independent Meat Suppliers (AIMS) has claimed the Food Standards Agency (FSA) ’appears to continue to undermine the meat processing sector’ with misleading campylobacter figures.

AIMS_LOGO_2008_002An article in The Meat Trades Journal quoted figures published on the Food Standards Agency website stated campylobacter was believed to cause 100 deaths a year.

However, AIMS pointed out the figure was an extract from a FSA funded paper which said ’We could not estimate deaths attributable to foodborne illness, due to the lack of reliable data sources on pathogen-specific mortality rates’.

AIMS head of policy, Norman Bagley, said: “Selectively quoting from its own commissioned report on its own website has once again undermined the excellent work and progress the industry has made on combating campylobacter.

“Stating that campylobacter causes 100 deaths a year is just not based on science and leads to continuing scary, misleading stories being carried in both the trade and consumer media, which once again, undermines our sector.

“This is far from helpful and needs to stop.”

A FSA spokesman said: “We explain on our website that the campylobacter deaths figure is a previous estimate, and that we are continuing to analyse the full impact that campylobacter has.

“We are determining which updated figures to use in the future.”

Fewer barfing: estimates of foodborne illness in Canada

Following the lead of the U.S., Canada has significantly reduced its estimate of annual foodborne illness rates – the number of people barfing each year from food – from 11 million to 4 million, or 1-in-8 people each year.

The current U.S. estimate is 48 million annual cases or 1-in-6 people, down from 76 million or 1-in-4 people.

In both cases, the downward estimates reflect changes in methodologies rather than actual decreases in illness; or maybe there are fewer people barfing, it’s restaurant_food_crap_garbage_10-297x300impossible to compare.

A paper was published in Foodborne Pathogens and Disease yesterday (abstract below) and highlights published in a press release, with excerpts below.

The Public Health Agency of Canada estimates that each year roughly one in eight Canadians (or four million people) get sick due to domestically acquired food-borne diseases. This estimate provides the most accurate picture yet of which food-borne bacteria, viruses, and parasites (“pathogens” – why the dick fingers?) are causing the most illnesses in Canada, as well as estimating the number of foodborne illnesses without a known cause.

In general, Canada has a very safe food supply; however, this estimate shows that there is still work to be done to prevent and control foodborne illness in Canada, to focus efforts on pathogens which cause the greatest burden and to better understand foodborne illness without a known cause.

The Agency has estimates for two major groups of foodborne illnesses:

Known foodborne pathogens: There are 30 pathogens known to cause foodborne illness. Many of these pathogens are tracked by public health systems that monitor cases of illness.

To estimate the total number of food-borne illnesses, the Agency estimated the number of illnesses caused by both known foodborne pathogens and unspecified agents.

In general, to be captured in a Canadian surveillance system a sick individual must: seek care; have a sample (stool, urine or blood) requested; and submit a sample for testing. In addition, the sample must be tested with a test capable of identifying the causative agent; and finally the positive test result must be reported to the surveillance system. Surveillance systems only capture a small portion of total illnesses given all these necessary steps (i.e. there is under-diagnosis and under-reporting taking place).

The Agency’s 2013 estimates of illnesses from food-borne diseases in Canada are more accurate than the estimates published in 2008 of 11 million episodes of foodborne illness each year based on better data and methodologies. The 2008 estimates used values from earlier United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates applied to a Canadian estimate of the average number of esti-fig5-engepisodes of acute gastrointestinal illness per person occurring each year. In addition, the methodology used for the 2013 estimates is different from that used in 2008. As a result of these differences, no strict side-by-side comparison can be made between the two sets of estimates. The 2013 estimates do not mean that there is less foodborne illness occurring, but rather, that more accurate estimates are now possible.

Estimates of the burden of foodborne illness in Canada for 30 specified pathogens and unspecified agents, circa 2006


Foodborne Pathogens and Disease

M. Kate Thomas, Regan Murray, Logan Flockhart, Katarina Pintar, Frank Pollari, Aamir Fazil, Andrea Nesbitt, and Barbara Marshall


Estimates of foodborne illness are important for setting food safety priorities and making public health policies. The objective of this analysis is to estimate domestically acquired, foodborne illness in Canada, while identifying data gaps and areas for further research. Estimates of illness due to 30 pathogens and unspecified agents were based on data from the 2000–2010 time period from Canadian surveillance systems, relevant international literature, and the Canadian census population for 2006. The modeling approach required accounting for under-reporting and underdiagnosis and to estimate the proportion of illness domestically acquired and through foodborne transmission. To account for uncertainty, Monte Carlo simulations were performed to generate a mean estimate and 90% credible interval. It is estimated that each year there are 1.6 million (1.2–2.0 million) and 2.4 million (1.8–3.0 million) episodes of domestically acquired foodborne illness related to 30 known pathogens and unspecified agents, respectively, for a total estimate of 4.0 million (3.1–5.0 million) episodes of domestically acquired foodborne illness in Canada. Norovirus, Clostridium perfringens, Campylobacter spp., and nontyphoidal Salmonella spp. are the leading pathogens and account for approximately 90% of the pathogen-specific total. Approximately one in eight Canadians experience an episode of domestically acquired foodborne illness each year in Canada. These estimates cannot be compared with prior crude estimates 

Foodborne illness really down by 37%; or is it

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finally published an update to the 1999 Mead, et al. figures estimating the burden of foodborne illness – and the numbers are down.

The new, much-to-be-quoted figure is 1-in-6 Americans get sick from the food and water they consume each year, down from the 1-in-4 figure of 1999. That’s 47.8 million sickies instead of 76 million.

It’s still too high. And doesn’t seem to account for active surveillance work done in Australia and Canada, which, along with the World Health Organization, has pegged the incidence of foodborne illness as high as 1-in-3.

According to press releases, the U.S. numbers are down because:

CDC officials no longer include people who were only vomiting for a day or who only had one or two episodes of diarrhea because they know that real foodborne illnesses cause symptoms that last longer.

•CDC’s surveillance data is much more comprehensive than it was in 1999.

• Most norovirus is not spread by the foodborne route, which has reduced the estimate of foodborne norovirus from 9.2 to approximately 5.5 million cases per year. Because of data and method improvements, the 1999 and current estimates cannot be compared to measure trends.

CDC’s FoodNet surveillance system data, which tracks trends among common foodborne pathogens, has documented a decrease of 20 percent in illnesses from key pathogens during the past 10 years. However, these FoodNet pathogens make up only a small proportion of the illnesses included in the new estimates.

Among the additional findings for foodborne illness due to known pathogens:

• Salmonella was the leading cause of estimated hospitalizations and deaths, responsible for about 28 percent of deaths and 35 percent of hospitalizations due to known pathogens transmitted by food.

• About 90 percent of estimated illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths were due to seven pathogens: Salmonella, norovirus, Campylobacter, Toxoplasma, E.coli O157, Listeria and Clostridium perfringens.

• Nearly 60 percent of estimated illnesses, but a much smaller proportion of severe illness, was caused by norovirus.

The full report is available online at For more detailed information on the estimates and methods, visit