New Research Estimates True Incidence of Food Poisoning in the UK

Research commissioned by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and carried out at the University of Liverpool estimates that more than 500,000 people every year are made ill by known foodborne pathogens in the UK.

This figure is much higher than official surveillance figures would suggest. The difference represents a considerable under-reporting of food poisoning, largely because many people do not seek medical attention and not all GPs request tests for specific pathogens, so that these cases do not show up in surveillance data.

The researchers estimated the true incidence of foodborne disease caused by 13 specific pathogens, including CampylobacterSalmonella, norovirus and E. coli O157 by applying mathematical modelling techniques to existing data. However, if cases of foodborne infectious intestinal disease that are not attributed to a specific pathogen were included the estimated incidence of food poisoning would double to more than a million cases each year.

The most common foodborne pathogen was Campylobacter, which causes about 280,000 cases of illness each year. Clostridium perfringens is next with an estimated 80,000 annual cases, followed by norovirus with 74,000. Salmonella causes the highest number of hospital admissions (2,500) and poultry meat is the most likely food to be linked to cases of food poisoning, with about 244,000 associated cases.

Lead researcher Professor Sarah O’Brien commented, “These findings will help the FSA to target its resources more effectively in tackling food poisoning. They confirm that the FSA is right to put Campylobacter at the top of its priority list. It is the biggest food safety problem we have and more needs to be done to tackle it.”

More information about the research can be found here.