More than four times fewer suspected food and waterborne epidemics have been reported in Finland in the past few months.

Between March and May, four suspected foodborne outbreaks were reported, compared with an average of 18 in previous years, according to the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL).

The agency believes this is because of the coronavirus pandemic and associated limitations and recommendations. When hands are washed diligently and food is prepared for smaller groups, there are fewer epidemics, the THL reported.

Suspected pathogens in the four outbreaks are Campylobacter, Yersinia, and norovirus.

Ruska Rimhanen-Finne, an epidemiologist at THL, said as summer comes, cooking and eating out will increase.

“The most important way to avoid food poisoning also applies in summer: always wash your hands thoroughly before cooking and eating. Also remember to wash vegetables, cook meat and take care of good food handling and storage practices.”

A common picture
More than 130 foodborne outbreaks were recorded in Finland between 2014 and 2016, according to an earlier report published in 2019.

Norovirus remained the most common agent and was responsible for 42 outbreaks. There was one Yersinia pseudotuberculosis and five Campylobacter outbreaks reported in that period.

The picture in Finland reflects reports elsewhere. Rates of Campylobacter and Salmonella infections in Australia have fallen since a lockdown was imposed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Experts in the United Kingdom and Ireland urged caution in interpreting a decline in foodborne illness figures during the coronavirus outbreak as an actual drop in infections while a Dutch report found people are paying more attention to hygiene in the kitchen.

Researchers at the National Food Institute in Denmark are testing a hypothesis that Danes’ increased focus on hand hygiene and changes in what they eat and who prepares the food will lead to a decrease in foodborne illness cases.

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