Latest research by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has estimated that around 2.4 million cases of foodborne illness occur every year in the UK. This is an increase of 1.4 million since 2009 when the estimate was at one million. With 37% of Norovirus cases being caused through eating out, what can foodservice businesses do to help prevent foodborne illnesses?
What causes foodborne illness?
Each year in the UK, there are approximately 18 million cases of Infectious Intestinal Disease (IID), of which for approximately 11 million cases the cause is unknown. Previous estimates have indicated that approximately 1 million cases of IID were foodborne, that is to say that food is the vehicle of transmission of disease. Common organisms causing IID include viruses, of which norovirus is a major cause, and bacteria such as Campylobacter.
Norovirus in food – research findings
This 5 year study looked into the extent of Norovirus in food and found that of the 3 million Norovirus cases reported annually in the UK, approximately 380,000 cases were linked to food. By applying the same research model to the cases of unknown cause, the study has been able to revise the total estimate of foodborne IID to 2.4 million. The study has provided greater accuracy with regard to identifying the number of IID cases attributable to food and does not identify an increase in the overall number of cases of IID per year.
The study found that eating out accounted for 37% of all foodborne Norovirus cases and takeaways 27%. However, open-headed lettuce on retail sale accounted for 30% of cases, raspberries 4% and oysters 3%.
How can food businesses prevent foodborne illnesses?
Whilst the study has identified a further 1.4 million cases of IID per year are attributable to food, the advice of the Food Standards Agency remains the same. Navitas also advise:
Always use reputable food suppliers
It is a legal requirement to ensure that you take reasonable precautions when choosing and utilising your suppliers. The FSA provides guidance on what you should look out for. Some simple checks include finding out if they’re registered with your local authority, do they have a food safety management system and do they have any quality assurance certification.
You should regularly review your suppliers as over time quality and standards could change. A digital food safety system will help you keep track of your goods-in and ensure you have full traceability should you ever need to review your processes including suppliers.
Thoroughly wash fruit and vegetables intended to be eaten raw
Washing fruit and vegetables thoroughly before consumption seems like common sense, but when operating in a pressurised busy environment, it’s easy to let ‘thoroughness’ slip. We would also recommend the use of a proprietary fresh produce wash, which provides further reassurance that you have irradicated any foodborne illnesses and diseases from your produce prior to consumption.
Ensure you have robust illness reporting
You need to ensure that you have strict and clear ‘back to work’ procedures that are fully understood by management and team members. You should not encourage staff members to return to work until the recommended isolation period has been achieved. For Norovirus it is 48 hours after symptoms have completely stopped.
You must maintain a record of all return to work forms/documentation, completing these digitally will ensure they’re easily accessible and will help you to prove your due diligence processes should this ever be required.
You should also ensure:
- Strict separation of raw and ready to eat foods during storage and preparation
- Regular and thorough cleaning and disinfection of structure and equipment – including all hand contact points. Using digital checklists with reminders will help you keep on top of your cleaning processes.
- Ensure all food handlers exercise a high standard of personal hygiene, particularly handwashing and are suitably trained on their responsibilities.
Do you feel you need a helping hand when it comes to your food health and safety processes? Our environmental health experts can help you review your processes and help put into place new processes which will help you to prevent risks which could lead to foodborne illnesses. Please request a chat if this is something you’d like to explore.