The number of foodborne infections in Europe went up in 2021 but is still below figures from before the Coronavirus pandemic, according to a report.

The drop compared to pre-pandemic years is probably linked to COVID-19 control measures, which were still in place in 2021, said the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

Campylobacter remained the most frequently reported agent, with cases increasing to 127,840 compared to 120,946 in 2020. Meat from chicken and turkeys was the most common source.

Salmonella was second, affecting 60,050 people compared to 52,702 in 2020. Followed by Yersinia with 6,789 cases, Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) with 6,084 cases, and listeriosis with 2,183 cases. Almost 200 people died from listeriosis, 71 from salmonellosis, 26 from campylobacteriosis, and 18 from STEC infections.

Stats by pathogen

Campylobacter infection accounted for more than 62 percent of all confirmed cases. The highest proportion of reported cases was in the youngest age group from 0 to 4 years old.  

The top country-specific notification rates were in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Luxembourg, and Malta. The lowest was in Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, and Cyprus. Germany had the most infections with almost 48,000. Nearly 10,500 people were hospitalized. The highest rates were in Latvia, Cyprus, and Poland.

A regulatory limit applies for Campylobacter from broilers. Countries reported 8,063 results from official controls, with nearly 1,500 over the limit of 1,000 Colony Forming Units per gram (CFU/g). More than 53,000 results from the monitoring of food companies found 8,759 above this level. The number of samples exceeding the limit was much higher in official samples than in own-checks.

“This discrepancy, observed for the second year, deserves more thorough investigation in order to identify the critical parameters and factors explaining these differences. The aim is to stimulate action to lower Campylobacter counts on broiler carcasses and to reduce the number of human campylobacteriosis cases caused by the consumption or handling of contaminated chicken/broiler meat,” said the report.

Salmonella and Listeria

Salmonella infections climbed from 2020 but are still down from 2019 levels. In 2021, the top notification rates were reported by the Czech Republic and Slovakia while the lowest was in Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Ireland, Romania, and Portugal. More than 10,000 cases were recorded in the Czech Republic and above 9,000 in France.

The most affected age groups were 0 to 4 years old, those 5 to 9, and people older than 65.

The highest proportions of hospitalized cases were reported, as in previous years, in Cyprus, Greece, and Lithuania.

The top five Salmonella types causing infections were Enteritidis, Typhimurium, monophasic Typhimurium, Infantis, and Derby. Salmonella Braenderup, Montevideo, Oranienburg and Rissen, entered the top 20 list of the most frequent serovars in 2021.

Listeria monocytogenes infections were most common in the age group over 64 years old and particularly in people older than 84. More than 900 people were hospitalized.

The highest notification rates were in Finland, Denmark, Sweden, and Slovenia, while the lowest was reported by Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, and Romania. Germany had the most infections with 560 followed by France with 435. France noted the most deaths with 75, followed by 34 in Spain, 25 in Poland and 20 in Germany.

E. coli and Yersinia

STEC was the fourth most common foodborne disease in Europe. The main serogroups were O157 and O26.

The highest country-specific notification rates were seen in Ireland, Denmark and Malta while the lowest were in Romania, Portugal, Greece, Slovakia and Poland. Germany had the most infections with 1,635 followed by Denmark with more than 900 and Ireland with just below 900.

A total of 362 Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS) cases were reported in almost all age groups, with the highest proportion of patients in the youngest age groups from 0 to 4 and 5 to 14 years old. The main serogroups were O26, O157, O80 and O145.

Yersinia infections increased to almost 6,800 from 5,661 in 2020. Germany had the most cases with 1,912, followed by France with 1,451. The highest notification rates were in Denmark, Finland, Lithuania and Latvia. More than 500 people were hospitalized. Yersinia enterocolitica was the most commonly reported species and the top serotype was O3.

Three of 1,205 single samples and three of 404 batches of infant formula-type products were positive for Cronobacter sakazakii. Testing by Estonia and Spain at the processing plant detected one positive out of 32 official control samples.

The Netherlands tested 750 samples or batches of crustaceans, fish, bivalve mollusks and leafy vegetables for Vibrio. Vibrio cholerae was detected in 21 samples and Vibrio parahaemolyticus in 45 samples. No positives for Hepatitis A were found in 153 tests of non-pre-cut fruit and leaf vegetables.

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