Norovirus was the main cause of foodborne outbreaks in Finland from 2017 to 2019, according to figures published recently by the Finnish Food Authority (Ruokavirasto).

About 2,900 people were reported to have fallen ill in 162 foodborne outbreaks with 110 hospitalizations and nine deaths.

Norovirus caused 57 foodborne outbreaks including two in 2018 through meals at medical and elderly care institutions with 292 and 110 cases. The most commonly reported vectors were fish and fish products, including shellfish and mussels. These caused 14 outbreaks.

Analysis of outbreaks
Meat and meat products and vegetables and products prepared from them both caused 12 outbreaks. In more than 70 percent of outbreaks, the source was unidentified or several foods were suspected.

Use of contaminated ingredients was linked to 33 outbreaks. In 22 percent of outbreaks, there were inadequacies and errors in temperatures and storage. An infected worker in food preparation and inadequate hand hygiene resulted in 19 percent of outbreaks.

The most common location for incidents were restaurants, cafés or hotels with 90 outbreaks followed by 12 in domestic homes. Overall, 99 outbreaks involved only one to 10 people with 61 affecting 11 to 100 people.

The causative agent remained unknown in 67 outbreaks. Eight each were from Salmonella and Campylobacter with 120 and 44 sick respectively. Three were because of Listeria monocytogenes and affected 54 people.

Four outbreaks of Yersinia enterocolitica sickened 45 people, one outbreak of E. coli infections had three patients and high levels of sodium nitrate in sausage meat products affected four people.

Hygiene passport milestone
Meanwhile, the hygiene passport used in the country’s food sector is marking its 20th anniversary this year. Nearly 1,358,000 such passports have been issued as of February 2022.

People who work in food premises such as restaurants and factories and handle unpackaged perishable foodstuffs are required to have a hygiene passport.

To get one, an applicant needs to pass a test, which measures knowledge of various aspects of food hygiene. Questions cover microbiology, food poisoning, hygienic working methods, personal hygiene, cleaning, self-supervision, and food legislation. Examiners are approved by the Finnish Food Authority.

The document makes it easier to gain employment in the food sector but also teaches safe methods for use in home kitchens.

Twenty years ago, it was estimated that about 130,000 employees in the food sector would need a hygiene passport. Nowadays, about 9,000 testing events are held and about 50,000 passports are issued each year.

Finally, the Finnish Food Authority has warned people to only eat properly cooked beetroot.

The advice comes after the agency was made aware of several reports of people being sick after having beetroot in juice or smoothies.

Raw beetroot had previously been linked to food poisoning cases in 2010. The most common symptoms include nausea and abdominal pain. Headaches, fatigue and vomiting were also reported. Many symptoms started less than an hour after consumption and lasted for only a few hours. Microbiological testing didn’t find any pathogens or toxins in beetroot samples.

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