It’s here; it’s here: EFSA and ECDC 2011 zoonoses report shows rise in human infections from Campylobacter and E. coli, while Salmonella cases continue to fall

Campylobacteriosis remains the most reported zoonotic disease in humans [1], with a continuous increase in reported cases over the last five years.

The trend in reported human cases of verocytotoxin-producing Escherichia coli (VTEC/STEC) has also been increasing since 2008 and was further strengthened due to the outbreak in the summer of 2011. 

Salmonella cases in humans have continued to fall, marking a decrease for the seventh consecutive year. These are some of the main findings of the slugannual report on zoonoses and food-borne outbreaks in the European Union for 2011 produced jointly by the European Food Safety Authority and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

In 2011, a total of 220,209 Campylobacter cases were reported in humans, 2.2% more than in 2010. This bacterium can cause diarrhea and fever, and the most common foodstuff in which Campylobacter was found was chicken meat.

VTEC/STEC bacteria accounted for 9,485 human disease cases in 2011. The strong increase observed in 2011 was primarily due to the large outbreak of the rare strain O104:H4 in Germany and France associated with sprouted seeds; however, an increasing trend had already been reported in previous years. Infection with VTEC strains can lead to bloody diarrhea and Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome, a serious complication that can be fatal. With respect to the presence of this bacterium in animals and foodstuffs, VTEC was most often reported in bovine meat products and cattle.

Although salmonellosis has declined significantly in the last years, in 2011 it was still the second most frequently reported zoonotic disease in humans, accounting for 95,548 reported cases. The continued decrease in human cases reflects the results of the Salmonella control programmes put in place by EU Member States and the European Commission which have led to a decline in Salmonella infections in poultry populations, particularly laying hens (and hence eggs) and chickens. Salmonella, which can cause fever, diarrhea and abdominal cramps, was most often found in fresh chicken meat, as well as minced chicken meat and chicken meat preparations.

The report also shows a total of 5,648 foodborne outbreaks recorded across the EU in 2011. Foodborne outbreaks include two or more human cases in which the same contaminated food has been consumed. These affected 69,553 people and caused 93 deaths. Salmonella continued to be the most frequently reported cause of the outbreaks with known origin (26.6 % of all outbreaks), followed by bacterial toxins (12.9%) and Campylobacter (10.6%).  

The most common food sources of the outbreaks were eggs and egg products, mixed food, fish and fish products.

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

Scores on Doors too clear for UK restaurant grading schemes

Only a Lord could get away with a report titled, Common Sense Common Safety.

It ain’t common sense if it hasn’t been thought of.

The report, published today in the U.K. by Lord Young, the Prime Minister’s adviser on health and safety law and practice, puts forward a series of policies for improving the perception of health and safety, to ensure it is taken seriously by employers and the general public, while ensuring the burden on small business is as insignificant as possible.

Wouldn’t it be better to improve health and safety, and then the perception would be improved – if there was actual data to back up the claims of improved health and safety?

The report is written in a snooty tone that apparently only the British can achieve, and was deliberated in the context of the compensation culture – those vulgar lawyers looking for recompense for slighted victims.

Prime Minister David Cameron said,

“A damaging compensation culture has arisen, as if people can absolve themselves from any personal responsibility for their own actions, with the spectre of lawyers only too willing to pounce with a claim for damages on the slightest pretext.

“We simply cannot go on like this. That’s why I asked Lord Young to do this review and put some common sense back into health and safety. And that’s exactly what he has done.”

The U.K. Food Standards Agency was quick to say the Lord backed their restaurant inspection disclosure scheme.

Under the voluntary Food Hygiene Rating Scheme, each business is given a hygiene rating (from 0-5) when it is inspected by a food safety officer from the business’s local authority. The hygiene rating shows how closely the business is meeting the requirements of food hygiene law.

I was never sure about the 0-5 rating – is 5 good or bad – whereas a letter grading has clearer meaning. The actual report contains some clues:

The good Lord says that local authority participation in the Food Standards Agency’s Food Hygiene Rating Scheme be made mandatory, and that usage of the scheme by consumers by harnessing the power and influence of local and national media.

He also says the voluntary display of ratings should be reviewed after 12 months and, if necessary, make display compulsory – particularly for those businesses that fail to achieve a ‘generally satisfactory’ rating.

“I welcome the FSA’s decision to drop the unfortunate title ‘scores on the doors’, which has been used in the past for this initiative, and its decision to drop the use of stars, which have a connotation of cost and service. I am pleased that they have decided instead to use a simple numerical scale with appropriate descriptors. These decisions were based on the results of independent research with consumers and this is what they found to be clearest and easiest to use.”

Scores on doors may be too direct for the Lord; I hope the Aussies keep using it. And I look forward to the 0-5 studies being published in a peer-reviewed journal so mere mortals can review the research.

The good Lord also cites the Los Angeles example of restaurant inspection disclosure – they use letter grades – and inflates an already dubious estimate by stating there was a 20 per cent drop in the number of people being admitted to hospital for food related illnesses after the introduction of the letter grades.

Restaurant inspection is a snapshot in time and disclosure is no panacea. It can boost the overall culture of food safety, hold operators accountable, and is a way of marketing food safety so that consumers can choose.

Mason’s mum fears food plan for Wales restaurant inspection disclosure

Abby Alford of The Western Mail reports that the effectiveness of a new scheme designed to reduce food poisoning outbreaks has been called into question a month before it is launched.

Sharon Mills, who lost her son Mason Jones during Wales’ largest E.coli O157 outbreak in 2005, said she feared the food hygiene rating scheme lacked the teeth to make a difference.

And watchdog Consumer Focus Wales told the Western Mail a decision to keep food inspectors’ detailed findings out of the public domain would leave concerned customers with no other option than to request hygiene records under the Freedom of Information Act.

All 22 councils in Wales will begin awarding the country’s 26,000 food retailers, which include pubs, restaurants, hotels, takeaways and supermarkets, a score from 0 to 5 from October 1 (left, pretty much as shown).

The ratings will gradually be made available to the public on a single website from October 1. Businesses will not be forced to display their rating on their premises.

Rob Wilkins, team leader for enforcement at FSA Wales, said details of what inspectors found during their visits and the reasons for awarding a particular score would also be left off the website.

And wholesalers like Bridgend butcher William Tudor, the man responsible for the 2005 outbreak which affected almost 150 South Wales school pupils, will not be rated at all under the scheme because they do not sell directly to the public.

Ms Mills, from Deri, near Bargoed, said while she broadly supported the food hygiene rating scheme, believing it to be an important step forward, she feared the lack of a mandatory display clause and a lack of detail scuppered any hope it could be truly effective.

“The public has a right to know how clean food retailers are and this scheme does not go far enough. I don’t know why they have chosen to hold back some of the vital information. I don’t really understand how this is going to work.”

Doesn’t make sense to me either. The attempt seems half-hearted and feeble.