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Food Poisoning: the Latest Data from the Food Standards Agency

Articles | Mon 24th Feb, 2020

Figures just released by the Food Standards Agency show that there are estimated to be about 2.4 million cases of food poisoning a year in the UK; more than twice as many as the estimated figure in 2009. This does not mean that cases of food poisoning have increased; rather, it is a reflection of more sensitive testing for foodborne illness.

In summary, the new studies show that:

  • an estimated 380,000 cases of norovirus linked to food occur in the UK per year;
  • 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%;
  • the revised foodborne norovirus estimate, combined with better analysis of how many illnesses of unknown cause are also likely to be caused by food, suggest around 2.4 million estimated UK cases of foodborne illness occur each year.

These findings are significant for practitioners in the field; whereas some gastroenterologists have not previously been prepared to acknowledge that norovirus is often spread by food, these studies show most emphatically that it is. Furthermore, as science develops, it is becoming clearer that many previously idiopathic cases of gastroenteritis are in fact caused by foodborne pathogens. We can predict that this trend is likely to continue in the coming years as the FSA carries out further work on the causes of gastrointestinal illness.

It would appear that in many cases viral illness can be, and is, spread by food; and that its transmission can be prevented. This is obviously doubly important now that a poorly understood virus is sweeping the globe.

You heard it here first: the solution to the Viral Crisis is to avoid lettuce. Happily I’ve been doing that for years.

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