Warsaw, Poland – The EU has noted a sharp rise in food-borne outbreak illnesses and deaths in 2018, including in a number of particularly vulnerable countries like Poland and Slovakia.
According to data recently published by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), EU countries have experienced a strong increase in the number of people getting sick, being hospitalized or even dying from food-borne diseases.
With nearly 5,100 food-borne outbreaks reported in 2018, the EU counted 48,365 related illnesses, 4,588 hospitalizations and 40 deaths.
Salmonella in eggs and other egg products was, by far, the highest risk agent among zoonoses (infectious diseases spread between animals and humans) and the most widespread cause of food poisoning in the EU – accounting for nearly one third of the total food-borne outbreaks in Europe last year.
Overall, almost a third of the total number of outbreaks occurred in France (1,629), followed by Slovakia (second most at-risk country with 804 outbreaks in 2018), Spain (622), Poland (522) and Germany (416).
The strong increase in Salmonella outbreaks (+36% compared to 2017) was mainly due to Slovakia (231 more outbreaks than the previous year). Together, Slovakia, Spain and Poland accounted for 67% of the EU’s total number of Salmonella outbreaks.
“Findings from our latest Eurobarometer show that less than one third of European citizens rank food poisoning from bacteria among their top five concerns when it comes to food safety”, said EFSA’s chief scientist Marta Hugas. “The number of reported outbreaks suggests that there’s room for raising awareness among consumers, as many food-borne illnesses are preventable by improving hygiene measures when handling and preparing food”.
Food safety and quality has taken center stage in Central Europe in recent years, reignited by the EU-wide debate on the dual food quality standards, as well as frequent new food-borne outbreaks and tainted food scandals. But awareness varies across the region. According to the 2019 Eurobarometer, 61% of Slovaks consider food safety as an important factor when they buy food, compared to 47% of Poles and 40% of Czechs.
Last year, EU authorities revealed that a Salmonella outbreak affecting 18 countries – and which caused two deaths in Croatia and Hungary – originated from Polish eggs. In February, Poland’s deficient food safety procedures also came under scrutiny after Polish abattoirs found themselves at the heart of a tainted meat scandal that spread in nearly half of EU countries.