Written Answers. - Food Poisoning.

Bernard Allen

Question:

192 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Health and Children the reason for the increase in cases of food poisoning from 448 to 1,235 between 1997 and 1998; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4814/00]

Under the provisions of the Infectious Diseases Regulations, 1981, a number of categories of food poisoning are statutorily notifiable by medical practitioners to the health boards. The health boards in turn make weekly returns of infectious disease notifications to my Department. The figures quoted by the Deputy refer specifically to the increase in food poisoning, bacterial other than salmonella.

Both globally and in Ireland there has been a trend towards an increase in the reporting of cases of food poisoning. The reasons for the increase in the number of reported cases of the condition referred to by the Deputy may be attributed to several factors, and I would like to outline some of those. First, with improved food-borne disease surveillance being carried out by the health boards, in co-operation with the National Disease Surveillance Centre and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, the figures are likely to increase in coming years rather than decrease. This is a trend not only for Ireland but is the case for many other countries. In this regard I am informed that the number of cases of food poisoning, bacterial other than salmonella, for the year 1999 is reported provisionally at 1,666. Second, we have seen over the past few years an increase in the reporting of food-borne illness because of increased consumer awareness. Consumers are now more aware of food-borne disease because of the educational consumer focused campaigns carried out by public health departments of the health boards, the food unit and the health promotion unit of my Department, and by the FSAI.

Third, we have seen an enormous increase in the market for convenience foods associated with a change in lifestyle of Irish consumers. More and more people are eating out, which has resulted in the rapid expansion of fast food outlets. Some staff working in this area are untrained and inexperienced in food hygiene practices. The FSAI has informed my Department that food poisoning outbreaks in 1998 were associated mainly with catering establishments such as restaurants, hotels or institutions. The FSAI has indicated that in its opinion most of these outbreaks were easily preventable, having arisen mainly from inappropriate storage, inadequate heating and/or cross-contamination. It has produced a guide for takeaway premises because of the relatively high risk associated with such premises. While the responsibility for good food hygiene practices rests firmly on the owners of these food businesses it is imperative that employees know the causes of food poisoning and what they must do to prevent it.
The FSAI, which has been in existence on a non-statutory basis since 1997, was formally established by the Government in January 1999. This honours the commitment contained in the Government's Action Programme for the Millennium that an independent, science based statutory agency with responsibility for food safety be set up. In July last year the FSAI took over responsibility for the enforcement of all food safety legislation which, prior to that date, had been the responsibility of a range of State agencies. The primary function of the FSAI is to ensure that food produced or marketed in Ireland meets the highest standards of food safety and hygiene. The FSAI also has a statutory function to foster at all stages of food production, from primary production through to final use by the consumer, the establishment and maintenance of high standards of food hygiene and safety.
The FSAI is not solely concerned with the compliance of food safety legislation and it places great emphasis on the creation of a culture of food safety in Ireland. In this regard, we must be conscious that the responsibility for food safety lies at all levels, producer, retailer and consumer. By assuming our responsibility, while it may not be possible to completely prevent food poisoning, we can all help to minimise its occurrence.