Salmonella is a bacterium that causes food poisoning in humans. 3D illustration

Listeria is behind most of food illness related deaths in EU

According to a new report, most of the outbreak-related illnesses in Europe were due to Salmonella, but Listeria was behind most deaths in 2021.

Salmonella was responsible for almost 20% of all outbreaks, and the principal sources of salmonellosis outbreaks were eggs and its products and mixed food products. The outbreaks caused by Listeria monocytogenes were at the highest level in history, but the number of sick people and deaths did not rise. According to the report, this might be linked to the use of whole genome sequencing, which allows scientists to detect outbreaks.

According to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), outbreaks in 2021 raised compared to 2020. In 2021, foodborne outbreaks registered more than 4000 cases, 32543 illnesses, 2495 hospitalizations, and 31 deaths. Also, in some European countries, there were two deaths related to these outbreaks.

 The largest outbreak was in Finland, and France registered the most deaths, with 17 fatalities.

Countries like France, Poland, Slovakia, and Spain reported Salmonella outbreaks with 176, 165, 154, and 93 cases, respectively. Salmonella Enteritidis was the top serovar, followed by Typhimurium.

Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) was the third most common bacterial agent with 31 outbreaks and 275 patients, and it was the top cause in Ireland, identifying O157, O26, O103, and once each for O12, O145, O146, and O91seagroups in 24 outbreaks.

Campylobacter was the fourth most reported agent in outbreaks with 249, and it affected countries like Germany, France, Slovakia, Denmark, France, Spain, and Sweden, where they identified outbreaks, deaths, and hospitalizations.

In Germany, one outbreak was caused by Cronobacter sakazakii; it affected four newborns because the implicaded food was a hospital-mixed probiotic formula for infants. In Spain, the EFSA detected Vibrio cholera for the first time linked to mixed food.

Contributing factors and food links

In France, 90% of all outbreaks were due bacterial toxins like Bacillus cereus, Clostridium perfringens and Staphylococcus aureus.

In Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Latvia and Sweden, Norovirus was the leading agent with 112 outbreaks.

Czech Republic reported a major Hepatitis A outbreak, where the suspected vehicle was mixed food. Hepatitis E in Switzerland affected 105 people with 29 hospitalizations and two deaths. Slovakia reported an outbreak with five cases caused by tick-borne encephalitis virus linked to raw goat’s milk.

Almost 50 outbreaks and more than 200 cases were due to histamine and Scombrotoxin, often caused by fish products. Marine biotoxins such as Ciguatera were behind 17 outbreaks, and mushrooms were linked to six.

Foods of animal origin were implicated in 202 outbreaks linked to vegetables and juice products with a possible contamination with Salmonella. Cross-contamination was reported as a contributing factor in 34 outbreaks. An infected food handler was identified in 26 outbreaks. Time or temperature storage abuse, inadequate heat treatment, and inadequate chilling were also reported.

Whitworth, J. (December 16th, 2022). Salmonella is often behind EU outbreaks, but most deaths are caused by Listeria. Food Safety News.

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