Big rise in food poisoning illnesses

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The Independent Online
THE number of food-poisoning cases rose by 10 per cent last year, partly because people are ignoring food safety messages.

Notified cases of food poisoning across the UK rose to 105,552, up from 94,923 in 1996. Although the reported rate fell slightly in Scotland, the number of cases increased in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

While many people suffer only mild cases of food poisoning, more serious are bacteria such as E coli O157, which was the cause of the world's worst food-poisoning outbreak when 19 people died in 1996 in Scotland.

The reasons for the rise - announced at the start of Food Safety Week - are varied. "Basically it's been rising year-on-year for 15 years," said a Food and Drink Federation spokeswoman.

"It could be that more people are reporting cases of food poisoning because of greater awareness, but it may also be that people are going to the supermarket less regularly and people are careless about keeping food too long.

Research shows that many food safety messages are being ignored. One in ten people do not keep raw meat separate from other foods and half do not follow storage times advice.

Nearly four in five only change or wash their dishcloths once a month and one in four do not always wash their hands before preparing food.

Half do not always use separate chopping boards for cooked and raw foods and 14 per cent do not always cook meat products thoroughly.

"With a growing trend in once-a-week visits to the supermarket, awareness of food storage and food hygiene practice within the home is increasingly important," said Michael MacKenzie, director general of the Food and Drink Federation.

"The House of Commons' Agriculture Committee this year reported that the great majority of food-poisoning cases occur in the home."

Employers say that 23 million working days are lost annually through mild forms of food poisoning, and the cost to the nation has been estimated in excess of pounds 1,000m a year.

Health advisers say there are a number of important recommendations that people should follow if they wish to minimise the risk of food poisoning: keep raw and cooked foods apart; keep kitchens clean; wash hands properly before and after touching food; control temperatures and avoid waiting times between cooking preparation and eating.

The federation will be taking the message into supermarkets, schools and nurseries throughout this week.

The UK food and drink manufacturing sector now employs about 500,000 people - more than one in 10 of the total workforce. It is the single largest manufacturing sector, accounting for almost one quarter of total purchases by UK consumers.