For a second consecutive year, the number of incidents involving food safety in the United Kingdom increased in 2011, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) reports.
Tim J. Smith, the agency’s executive director, says there is no single reason for the increasing number of incidents. “Instead, we believe a combination of factors, including better reporting and monitoring, are behind the upward trend,” Smith says.
Most food safety incidents are reported to FSA by border inspection posts, local health authorities and fire services.
In FSA’s annual incidents report for 2011, published this week, the agency says the total number of incidents increased to 1,714, up from 1, 508 in 2010, and 1,208 in 2009. Incidents include reports of contaminated or illegal food entering the food chain with some potential harm to the public.
Smith says case studies in the report point to increases in incidents involving allergens and pesticides, and to more foodborne illness outbreaks originating abroad, including sources in India, China, and Bangladesh. The report says these “high level” instances required international responses.
The UK continued to experience an increase in the number of reports of microbiological contamination–a trend that began in 2006. In 2011, there were 281 such incidents, up from 271 in 2010, and 147 going back to 2006.
Because of concern about Salmonella contamination, the UK began extra testing of paan leaves in late 2011. By the end of the year, 79 cases of contaminated paan leaves had been reported to FSA.
Pesticide incidents almost doubled, reaching 102 in 2011. That is up from 55 for 2010. More testing of orka at border inspection posts was responsible for much of the increase.
“Keeping food safe is the FSA’s priority and investigating food incidents is a key part of that,” Smith added. “Our annual report gives a real insight into the vital role we play in protecting the food chain from a wide range of risks.”
Smith says the UK has some of the most robust food safety safeguards in the world and when such incidents do occur it works with other agencies to isolate and remove risks from reaching the public.
Counting the incidents included in the 2011 annual report, FSA has now managed more than 12,000 food safety incidents of varying complexity and nature since the agency was founded in 2000.
Smith says FSA has the additional goal in 2012 of making sure food in London and at other venues is safe to eat during the 2012 Olympic games, which begin on July 27. The agency’s new online incident reporting system has been rolled out to help local authorities and food businesses report incidents.
“This will enable us to act swiftly to protect the public and the food industry, ultimately increasing consumer confidence in food safety,” Smith says.