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A 17-year review of foodborne outbreaks: describing the continuing decline in England and Wales (1992–2008)


Systematic national surveillance of foodborne disease outbreaks effectively serves the development of public health policy on food safety. The Health Protection Agency has maintained a collaborative surveillance system for foodborne outbreaks in England and Wales since 1992. Up to 2008, 2429 foodborne outbreaks were identified, described and analysed for changes over time. Salmonella spp. accounted for half of the outbreaks, although the proportion of these decreased over the surveillance period. Similarly, the proportion of outbreaks caused by Clostridium perfringens decreased, while those attributed to Campylobacter spp. and Vero cytotoxin-producing Escherichia coli O157 increased. Although poultry meat was the most frequently implicated food vehicle in outbreaks followed by miscellaneous foods and red meats, the proportion of outbreaks attributed to meats in fact decreased over time but those linked to miscellaneous foods did not. Over the surveillance period, the proportion of outbreaks linked to eggs and S. Enteritidis non-phage-type 4, particularly in food service establishments, increased, highlighting the importance of this organism/setting/vehicle association. Contributory factors in most outbreaks were cross-contamination, inadequate heat treatment, and inappropriate food storage. This study describes the overall decline in foodborne outbreaks, providing evidence that the introduction and adherence to effective control measures provide the best means of minimising the risk of foodborne infection.

Author: Gormley FJ, Little CL, Rawal N, Gillespie A, Lebaigue S, Adak GK

Citation: Epidemiol Infect 2011;139,688-99.

Published: 01/01/2011

Publication Type: Journal article

Publisher: Epidemiology and Infection