The number of foodborne outbreaks in Switzerland almost halved in 2020 compared to the year before.

Only 13 outbreaks were reported following the consumption of food this past year versus 23 in 2019.

Overall, more than 161 people became ill and at least 36 were hospitalized. Ten deaths were recorded in one outbreak. In 2019, more than 331 people fell ill and six were hospitalized.

One outbreak of Salmonella Bovismorbificans involved several regions in the country but investigators could not link it to a food source. Nine people fell sick in 2019 and 12 in 2020.

The infectious agent was only determined in three of 13 outbreaks with some of the others potentially due to Clostridium perfringens and histamine. The potential Clostridium perfringens outbreak at a restaurant resulted in 48 patients and was linked to a mixed pasta dish with ground meat in sauce and grated cheese. Another incident with 37 sick was at a banquet served to 1,200 people. An investigation found violations in the cold chain.

Deadly Listeria outbreak
One outbreak involving Listeria monocytogenes caused 34 illnesses and 10 deaths. In January 2020, an unusual increase in listeriosis was reported and an investigation began to identify the source. In April, a cheese maker reported the detection of Listeria in a sample of soft cheese — brie — made from pasteurized milk. Production was halted and there was a recall in May 2020 with the last known patient being reported in mid-May.

Subsequent analyses in Käserei Vogel’s plant showed persistent environmental contamination of the cheese factory with Listeria monocytogenes. Infections in 2020 were also linked by lab work to some cases in 2018, for which a source had not been found at the time.

Another was because of enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC) and Campylobacter which affected seven people. Symptoms were mainly diarrhea and a couple of people also had vomiting. Analysis of patients’ stools found the two pathogens. No food was directly implicated, but the investigation revealed that so-called risky foods, such as tartare, were served with a lack of good hygiene practices in the kitchen.

The third was a Salmonella enteritidis outbreak that sickened five people and might have been because of  raw milk.

Consumer food safety survey
Meanwhile, the Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office (FSVO) has published results of a survey on risk perception and interest in food safety.

More than 1,100 people took part online and by telephone in September and October 2020. A total of 74 percent of the Swiss population said they have an interest in food safety.

However, Swiss people placed more importance on other things when shopping. The most crucial factor when buying food was origin, followed by taste and cost. A third mentioned food safety.

For around one in 10 people in Switzerland, food safety is the number one concern when choosing food and almost a third said it is one of their concerns. Only 5 percent indicated they are not at all concerned about safety.

The three main concerns cited by respondents were antibiotics, hormones or steroids in meat, pesticide residues and environmental pollutants in fish, meat or dairy products.

Three quarters of the population said they have changed their consumption behavior following reading information or hearing about a food risk. This includes 45 percent having permanently changed such behavior and 31 percent doing so temporarily.

Three in four people in Switzerland indicated their perception of food safety has not changed since the start of the coronavirus pandemic but one in five said it had been influenced by COVID-19.

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