The number of people sick in foodborne outbreaks declined in 2019 compared to the year before, according to the Finnish Food Authority (Ruokavirasto).

A report on food safety in Finland has the results of regulatory control related to food safety, official controls and monitoring programs on food and feed, as well as research and risk assessments.

Domestically produced food did not contain chemical substances in levels dangerous to the consumer. Foodstuffs tested showed food poisoning causing bacteria at very low concentrations.

The number of foodborne epidemics as well as the figure of people affected decreased from the previous year.

Outbreaks and patient numbers decline
In 2019, municipal control units reported 81 suspected food or waterborne epidemics. This was lower than the 100 reports in 2018. A total of 54 epidemics were classified as food or domestic waterborne this past year compared to 75 in 2018. Fifty of the 54 were foodborne outbreaks and 919 people were affected compared to 1,475 in 2018.

The main pathogen in 2019 was still norovirus, which was behind 22 outbreaks with 471 illnesses. It spreads easily and often causes disease in large groups of people. An infected kitchen worker was a contributing factor to at least eight epidemics.

Salmonella Poona caused nine infections in healthcare facilities across Finland with watermelon suspected as the source. Chopped iceberg lettuce was the likely source of a Yersinia enterocolitica outbreak involving 20 people in November and December 2019.

Two Listeria outbreaks were investigated although some illnesses occurred before 2019. A small incident was linked to a meat product and the source was not found for a “medium sized” outbreak.

Clostridium perfringens was responsible for one medium sized epidemic and Bacillus cereus and Staphylococcus aureus each caused one small outbreak. Two small Campylobacter epidemics and one small Yersinia and histamine outbreak was recorded. The cause of 16 outbreaks could not be identified.

The number of food recalls increased for the fourth year in a row to 200, up from 168 in 2018.

Most recalls were for allergen-related reasons. Microbiological issues were the second most common problem, accounting for 20 percent of cases. Fifteen recalls were reported for Salmonella and 14 of them concerned foreign products, mostly meat from another EU country.

European perspective
Food fraud is increasing and fraudulent activities are also found in Finland, according to the report.  More suspicion of crime in the food chain came to the attention of the Finnish Food Authority and other food control authorities, and more inquiries were also made to police. There was a court ruling in 10 cases.

In 2019, Finland submitted 62 reports of non-compliances detected in the country to the EU’s Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF). The number is less than the previous year. The majority concerned food but this figure still decreased significantly compared to the previous year.

Finland’s notifications were mostly related to the poor microbiological quality of imported food. More than half were due to Salmonella in meat.

During 2019, Finland submitted seven notifications to the European Commission’s Administrative Assistance and Cooperation System (AAC) system for administrative assistance, requesting measures from food authorities in Spain, Norway, Poland, Sweden and Estonia. The cases concerned misleading marketing and date markings, labeling contrary to legislation on berries, allergens and the return of food in breach of the law to the Finnish market.

Finland received 17 notifications through this system, nine of which requested control measures from domestic authorities. The cases concerned illegal labeling of eggs, incorrect naming of a meat product, a translation error in labeling confectionery, Listeria in fish, and a labeling error on alcohol.

Through the AAC-FF system for food fraud, Finland made one notification to six member states, asking for assistance in resolving a case. Finland received four reports through this channel: one related to data collection for Operation Opson coordinated by Europol and Interpol, two reports of suspected fraud, and one alleging fraud at a Finnish operator.

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