Unknown bug poisons half a million

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The Independent Online
CONSUMERS WERE yesterday given another stark warning about the growing threat of food poisoning at the start of National Food Safety Week.

Food safety experts highlighted the dangers of campylobacter, a relatively unknown bacterium which is responsible for half a million cases of food poisoning every year.

The number of people affected by the bug - which can cause acute stomach pains, vomiting and diarrhoea - has almost doubled since 1990 with nearly 60,000 cases reported annually. But the real number affected in the UK could be eight times higher, according to a Department of Health report to be published later this year.

The research also reveals that more than 9 million people in England - a fifth of the population - suffer stomach upsets every year, of whom 1.5 million visit their GP. The proportion of stomach upsets caused by food poisoning is not known.

The increased threat of campylobacter, which is found in raw or under- cooked meat and unpasteurised milk, contrasts with a decrease in salmonella cases, which declined by almost a third over the past year.

Hugh Pennington, a microbiologist and food safety expert, said: "This particular bacterium can cause abdominal pains so severe that in some cases victims have had their appendix removed mistakenly. That nearly half a million people are infected with this bug every year in Britain is a scandal because we know how to stop it."

National Food Safety Week, organised by the Food and Drink Federation, is aimed at alerting the public to the dangers of bad cooking practice.

Contamination of cooked meat occurs when cooked food comes into contact with bacteria from raw meat. According to surveys by the Food and Drink Federation, half of all households do not use separate chopping boards for raw and cooked food.

Reported cases of food poisoning have reached 100,000 for the second year running, according to the report. More than 23 million working days are lost each year because of food poisoning. The problem costs the country an estimated pounds 1bn every year.

Research for National Food Safety Week has found that the average dishcloth contains 100 million bacteria after just one week's use.

Concern was growing last night for a young victim of the Scottish E. coli outbreak which was linked to home-made goats' cheese at a Macduff primary school. The girl is being treated in hospital in Aberdeen.