More than 130 foodborne outbreaks were recorded in Finland between 2014 and 2016, according to a recent report.

Data comes from a register of foodborne and waterborne outbreaks maintained by the former Finnish Food Safety Authority (Evira) that became the Finnish Food Authority (Ruokavirasto) at the beginning of this year.

The number of people infected from foodborne pathogens was 2,761 in 132 outbreaks. Forty-eight people needed hospital treatment. No deaths were reported.

Vegetables and meat common food sources
Norovirus remained the most common agent in foodborne outbreaks between 2014 and 2016. It was responsible for 42, or 32 percent, of such outbreaks.

These were the causative agents of foodborne outbreaks in Finland. Click chart to enlarge.

The most significant foodborne outbreaks were because of restaurant food contaminated with norovirus in 2015 and 2016, with 100 and 131 infected, respectively, and because of arugula, also known as rocket, contaminated with Enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC) and Enteropathogenic E. coli (EPEC) in 2016 with 237 infected.

The cause of outbreaks was unknown in more than a third of foodborne incidents — 54 of 132. Those affected accounted for 21 percent of all patients. That’s 582 out of 2,761 patients. The most common reason causative agent remains unknown because of the lack of patient samples.

Foodborne outbreaks were reported fairly steadily throughout the year. The highest number occurred in December with 20 in 3 years and the least was in September with 4.

The most commonly reported food sources were vegetables. They were the source in 12 outbreaks. The second most common was meat and meat products at 11 outbreaks. Fish products, cereals and bakery items caused four outbreaks while milk products caused three.

In 70 percent of the outbreaks, the source was unidentified or several foods were suspected. Use of contaminated raw ingredients was identified as the cause for 18 outbreaks.

Issues behind the outbreaks
Of reported shortcomings and errors underlying the outbreaks, 28 percent were related to temperature. An excessively long storage period of food was an underlying cause in 16 percent of outbreaks.

Involvement of an infected employee in food preparation and inadequate hand hygiene were the underlying cause in 20 percent of reported foodborne outbreaks, with norovirus the pathogen in each instance. The most frequent locations of foodborne outbreaks were restaurants, cafés and hotels with 78 outbreaks, followed by households in 12 instances.

Bacillus cereus caused six outbreaks between 2014 and 2016 with a total of 81 ill people. The influencing factors were temperature and/or storage time errors. In 2015, one Shigella outbreak sickened seven people.

A total of five outbreaks because of Clostridium perfringens were reported with a total of 87 people sick. Only one outbreak of Listeria was recorded in 2015 that affected 24 people. In the same year, one Staphylococcus aureus outbreak was reported with 22 ill people.

In 2016, five Campylobacter outbreak were reported and in 2014 and 2015 one was recorded in each year with 91 people affected. Between 2015 and 2016, three Salmonella outbreaks were identified and 70 people became ill.

Three outbreaks linked to raw beetroot were recorded in 2016 with 68 people ill. Based on past incidents, Evira recommended that beetroot should be served only when it has been heated.

In 2014, one Yersinia pseudotuberculosis outbreak was reported in which 55 people were affected. In the same year, two were caused by Yersinia enterocolitica and 24 people became ill.

Also in 2014, one histamine outbreak was reported with 23 people ill and one incident due to lectin poisoning in chickpeas was reported with 12 cases.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)