In November, 1998 along with the tragically flawed consumer food safety education program, FightBac, Canadian government-types repeatedly stated that, “Research shows that improper food handling in the home causes a major proportion of foodborne illnesses.”
I had a research associate first e-mail the Canadian Food Inspection Agency via its web site, because the federal agriculture minister had used the line. She was referred to Health Canada. After a few messages, a couple of tables with an explanatory note arrived.
At last, the data. Except it showed that known outbreaks happen pretty much everywhere except the home.
Of the 23,322 known cases of foodborne illness in Canada between 1990 and 1993, 18,450 or 79 per cent were of unknown origin. Of the cases of known microbiological origin, 70 per cent were traced to food service; 11 per cent were traced to the home; four per cent were retail in origin.
The second table contained data on foodborne illness cases due to mishandling. Of the cases of known microbiological origin, 61 per cent were due to mishandling at the food service level; 11 per cent in the home; six per cent at retail; and six per cent on farms or dairies. I remain unconvinced.
Things don’t change, and making fun of Health Canada is like shooting ducks in a barrel – except for the millions of taxpayer dollars wasted.
The food safety geniuses at Health Canada said in Sept 21, 2010 press release advising pregnant women to be super-extra careful about food safety and that of the 11 million cases of foodborne illness that strike Canadians each year,
“Many of these illnesses could be prevented by following proper food handling and preparation techniques.”
I blogged and wrote,
Please, please, oh please. Show us mortals the data on which that statement is based?
And since Health Canada advises pregnant women to “make sure to cook hot dogs and deli meats until they are steaming hot before eating them,” please, please, oh please, stand up and say the advice provided by the Toronto Hospital for Sick Children Motherrisk program is complete nonsense.
After posting, I decided, it’s unfair to expect important government types to read my musings, so I called media relations at Health Canada at 1:40 pm central time on Sept. 21.
My call went to a machine, and I left a detailed message.
They called back a couple of hours later. I told them I wanted to know the scientific evidence to support the claim, “Many of these illnesses could be prevented by following proper food handling and preparation techniques” and that my deadline was in two days.
Two days later, someone from media relations at the Public Health Agency of Canada called to tell me she was working on my request, and she understood my deadline was early next week (this was Thursday); I said it was today, but could wait. She said she was working on it but couldn’t promise anything.
I said the statement, “Many of these illnesses could be prevented by following proper food handling and preparation techniques,” was a line in your press release, so maybe you’d have the supporting documentation handy.
The senior media relations thingy at the Public Health Agency of Canada (seriously, the senior bit is in her sig) e-mailed me today to say (and I don’t want to edit anything to take it out of context):
Below, please find the responses to your questions about the following statement: "It’s estimated that there are approximately 11 million cases of foodborne illnesses in Canada every year. Many of these illnesses could be prevented by following proper food handling and preparation techniques.."
1. What is this statistic based on?
The estimate of 11 million cases of food-borne illness per year in Canada is based on research from the National Studies on Acute Gastrointestinal Illness (NSAGI) combined with literature from the United States.
From the NSAGI population surveys, it was estimated that on average there are 1.3 episodes of acute gastrointestinal illness (AGI) per person per year in Canada. Using this estimate and given the size of Canada’s population along with estimates from the United States (Mead et al, 1999) that 25% of AGI could be due to respiratory infections and that 36% of enteric GI is foodborne, there would be an estimated 11 million episodes of foodborne disease in Canada annually.
The calculation is 1.3 episodes of AGI per person-year X 32 million Canadians = 42 million episodes of AGI per year X 0.75 due to enteric pathogens X 0.36 foodborne = 11 million episodes of foodborne disease in Canada annually
2. What report? Looking for the scientific basis behind this statement.
You may wish to review the reference document for this estimate found in the Public Health Agency’s Canada Communicable Disease Report (Vol. 34, Number 5) at this link: http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/publicat/ccdr-rmtc/08vol34/dr-rm3405b-eng.php
Yes, I get the 30 per cent of people get sick from food and water each year. We use that number and cite it endlessly. Yes, I’ve reviewed the report. No where does the report or the PR thingy answer the claim, “Many of these illnesses could be prevented by following proper food handling and preparation techniques.”
For all the salaries involved these people really suck at their job.