The number of food incidents, recalls and cases of four pathogens went up over a 12-month period, according to the latest published data.

The Food Standards Agency’s (FSA) annual report and accounts covers performance and activities in 2021/22 across England, Wales and Northern Ireland at a cost of £130.5 million ($160.2 million).

Susan Jebb, FSA chair, said: “While acknowledging the work that was ongoing through the year to manage the impact of COVID-19 and EU exit, it has been good to see a growing emphasis on recovery from the pandemic and adaptation to the expanded role for the FSA post EU exit. 

“Despite signs of recovery during this reporting period, local authorities are still struggling and will continue to face constraints which could impact on local food teams. Likewise, we remain concerned that without full import controls the less confident we can be about preventing food incidents occurring.”

Local authorities are finding higher levels of non-compliance than before the pandemic but the report said more data was needed before conclusions can be drawn about the impact of Coronavirus on broader hygiene standards.

Full import controls should be in place for EU goods entering Great Britain in late 2023. UK food safety authorities have been managing risks through pre-notifications, introduced in January 2022 for certain high-risk food and feed imports.

Pathogen data

In 2021, cases of Campylobacter and Listeria reported in the UK returned to pre-COVID-19 levels but Salmonella and Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) O157 stayed lower than pre-pandemic figures. Data for all four pathogens showed an increase compared to more than 49,000 Campylobacter, 566 E. coli, 4,442 Salmonella and 136 Listeria cases in 2020.

A series of related Salmonella outbreaks in 2020 and 2021 were linked to breaded chicken products from Poland and affected more than 1,000 people.

Nine emerging risks were identified including Listeria in enoki mushrooms from Asia which had a 90 percent non-compliance rate.

Food, animal feed and environmental contamination incidents went up by almost 20 percent to 2,336. Pathogenic microorganisms were the leading cause of incidents, allergens were second and pesticide residues third, driven by the Europe-wide incident relating to non-permitted ethylene oxide in sesame products and items containing locust bean gum.

Notifications published in 2021/22 rose to 150 from 136 in the previous period. This included 84 allergy alerts and 66 product recall information notices.

Foodborne disease made up 17 percent of FSA spend on research and evidence programs. PATH-SAFE, a £19 million ($23.5 million) project was started to look at novel methods to improve foodborne disease and antimicrobial resistance surveillance.

Sampling and food crime

More than 11,000 samples were tested with 245 non-compliances found at a cost of £3.3 million ($4.1 million). Some products did not meet required standards in terms of the quality and accuracy of consumer information. Targeted surveillance included more than 4,000 samples and 147 non-compliances were detected.

A total of 32 Hygiene Improvement Notices and 42 Remedial Action Notices were served in England and Wales in 2021/22. Both of these enforcement actions were down from the year before. During 2021/22, 11 cases investigated by the FSA went to court with convictions against 14 defendants.

The National Food Crime Unit (NFCU), as a lead or supporting agency, opened 89 new strands of operational activity in 2021/22 compared to 70 in 2020/2021. The first conviction was secured following an investigation led by the unit into the sale of 2,4- Dinitrophenol (DNP) for human consumption.

NFCU supported the Border Force in an operation at an airport leading to the seizure of 525 kilograms of illegal imports of product of animal origin (POAO) and nearly 30 websites or marketplace listings selling DNP were taken down.

The report also covers changes to the food standards model and official food control labs, development of horizon scanning tools and the Achieving Business Compliance program.

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