Domestic hygiene: ANSES launches a consultation on its recommendations to improve consumer information
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News of 21/03/2013
Food can be contaminated by numerous micro-organisms causing a wide range of illnesses. Close to 40% of all foodborne illness outbreaks declared in France occur in the home. In light of this, in 2012 ANSES updated its home hygiene page which provides a wide range of recommendations for preventing food poisoning in the home. In order to facilitate adherence to these recommendations by consumers and to publicise the efforts which have the strongest impact on public health, the Agency has now prioritised its recommendations. This work, which involved highlighting ten essential recommendations, has been put up for consultation by consumer organisations.
Food can be contaminated by numerous micro-organisms (bacteria, viruses, parasites) that may cause a wide range of different illnesses. Measures implemented by the health authorities and food professionals have led to a marked reduction in the major illnesses caused by food. However, the recent European contamination episodes, linked specifically to plant products, have highlighted the need for vigilance regarding microbial hazards. In addition, the handling, storage and processing of foods in the consumer's home remain a sensitive issue. According to the Zoonoses report issued by EFSA, 36% of the food poisoning outbreaks declared in France in 2010 occurred in a family setting. Some of these cases are due to improper practices in the home, such as poor storage of foodstuffs, insufficient cooking of foods or contamination transfer.
In light of this, ANSES wishes to update its domestic hygiene page, which was created in 2006 and which presents clear information on the sources of the microbial contamination of foods and the kitchen environment as well as preventive measures. The Agency initially conducted a review of available data on consumer home hygiene practices and on the factors which can influence adherence to these practices (socio-economic factors, changes in habits, preconceived notions, etc.).
In order for the message to be as effective as possible, and to highlight the most relevant and useful information for the general public, the Agency prioritised 49 recommendations from the food hygiene page. In the end, ten essential messages for consumers with regard to domestic hygiene were identified.
ANSES now intends to make this document available for public consultation by consumer organisations and other interested parties, in order to receive their feedback on the wording of the recommendations and the most effective ways to relay this information.
Before the summer, and at the end of the two-month-long consultation phase which will conclude with a meeting with contributors, the Agency will publish its final recommendations.
Foodborne illness outbreaks in France
In France, foodborne illness outbreaks (FIOs) as well as certain other food-based diseases (listeriosis, etc.) are subject of mandatory declaration by doctors. However it is still difficult to evaluate the actual number of cases caused by food. Because of this, a report by the Institut de veille sanitaire [French Institute for Public Health Surveillance] on the morbidity and mortality due to foodborne infectious diseases in France for the years 2000 to 2002 has shown that the actual number of cases is greatly under-estimated. In fact, the true number of cases is estimated at 230 000, while only 12 000 cases are actually declared.
In France, in 2009, 1 255 foodborne illness outbreaks (FIOs) were declared, affecting approximately 14 000 individuals, and causing 9 deaths. The most frequently incriminated or suspected agent was found to be the toxin produced by the bacteria Staphyloccocus aureus (staphylococcal enterotoxin) (31% of outbreaks), followed by bacteria of the salmonella group (20% of outbreaks). In 42% of the reported cases, no known agent was found or suspected.
These figures emphasise the considerable health impact of FIOs, whose economic and financial repercussions have not yet been precisely evaluated in France, in contrast to the English-speaking countries. For example, the United States have evaluated the annual cost of FIOs at 75 billion dollars for the 14 main pathogens involved , while for New Zealand the cost of the six main foodborne pathogens (Salmonella, Yersinia, Listeria, Campylobacter, Norovirus and shiga-producing E.coli) is estimated at 162 million dollars, and for Great Britain at 1.5 billion pounds.