French public health officials have reported a rise in the number of foodborne outbreaks in 2019 compared to the year before.

Sante publique France, the public health agency, recorded 1,783 outbreaks in the country affecting 15,641 people. In total, 609 people needed hospital treatment and 12 died. In 2018, 1,630 outbreaks were declared affecting 14,742 people.

Winter 2019 saw a spike in outbreak reports with 134 associated with the consumption of oysters reported in December alone compared to between four and 30 in December to January in previous winters.

Salmonella top confirmed pathogen
As in previous years, the most frequent pathogen was Salmonella for more than a third of all outbreaks for which an agent was confirmed with 807 illnesses and 161 hospitalizations. A third of these 139 outbreaks were caused by Salmonella Typhimurium and a quarter by Salmonella Enteritidis. It was also suspected in another 44 outbreaks. More than 60 percent of Salmonella outbreaks were between June and September.

Other commonly suspected pathogens were the toxins Staphylococcus aureus, Clostridium perfringens and Bacillus cereus. For these three agents, 5,211 patients and 136 hospitalizations or emergency room visits were recorded. In 291 outbreaks, the agent responsible was not known.

One of the 12 deaths was from ingestion of a poisonous plant by a person in their 60’s. Another death followed a Bacillus cereus outbreak. The 10 others occurred in nursing homes following four outbreaks where Bacillus cereus or Clostridium perfringens were suspected or confirmed as the cause.

Campylobacter was confirmed in 55 outbreaks with 241 illnesses and suspected in another six. Norovirus was confirmed in 49 outbreaks involving 1,342 patients. Histamine was confirmed in eight and suspected in 28 outbreaks. Shigella was confirmed in nine outbreaks and suspected in one. Ciguatera was confirmed for five and suspected in 14 incidents. Yersinia enterocolitica was confirmed in three outbreaks and Vibrio parahaemolyticus was suspected in three.

End of year norovirus rise and role of shellfish
Every year there is a winter increase in outbreaks mainly caused by norovirus with about half of them occurring between December and March. The top source of suspected poisoning is consumption of shellfish, especially oysters. Such outbreaks led to the closure of about 30 fishing areas in January 2020.

In March this year, Sante publique France reported several outbreaks linked to eating oysters contaminated with norovirus.

In almost half of outbreaks where a pathogen was confirmed or suspected in 2019, the foods involved various ingredients or were ready-made such as mixed salads, sandwiches and buffet food so it didn’t allow a category to be identified as the vehicle.

Consumption of shellfish was suspected to be the cause of 13 percent of outbreaks, followed by meat, poultry, fish and eggs and egg products.

Among all outbreaks in 2019, 569 occurred in the context of family meals, 727 in commercial catering and 476 in collective catering such as companies, school canteens and banquets.

An increase in the number of incidents declared between 2018 and 2019 was seen in family settings and commercial catering while there was a slight decrease for those linked to collective catering.

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