According to the latest data, there has been an annual decline in the number of incidents and recalls handled by the Food Standards Agency (FSA).
The FSA unit that deals with incident response and prevention said challenges include the increasing demands of foodborne outbreak management, the need to adapt after Britain’s EU exit, and the impact of supply chain disruption such as that caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
FSA was notified of 2,038 food and feed safety incidents in England, Northern Ireland, and Wales during 2022-23. This is a 13 percent decrease compared to 2,336 incidents in 2021-22.
The top four hazard types were pathogenic microorganisms at 572, with 314 for allergens, 145 concerning poor or insufficient controls, and 144 for residues of veterinary medicinal products.
Alerts about pathogens make up the highest proportion at 28 percent and rose 2 percent on the previous year. Salmonella continues to be the cause of most microbiological incidents and outbreaks that require an FSA response. Levels of allergen incidents remained similar to previous years.
The issues involving poor and insufficient controls dropped from 296 in 2021-22. The increase in the previous period was because of imports transiting through the EU and avoiding UK border checks.
Those involving residues of veterinary medicinal products rose 73 percent from the 83 reported in 2021-22. FSA, the Veterinary Medicines Directorate, and the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) are looking into the reasons behind this spike.
Meat and meat products, except poultry, were behind the most incidents in 2022-23 with 270 and remained the top product type since 2019, partly because they are one of the most frequently tested.
More than 200 notices related to cereals and bakery products are because of the presence of unauthorized ingredients and issues with production, labeling, and packaging.
Salmonella is behind the majority of outbreaks
Alerts issued by FSA decreased from 150 in 2021-22 to 143 in 2022-23. The latest period includes 82 allergy alerts and 61 product recall information notices.
Thirty-six foodborne outbreaks were severe enough to involve the FSA. These included 13 Salmonella outbreaks, 10 because of Listeria, eight for E. coli, three because of norovirus and one each because of hepatitis A and Cryptosporidium.
Data from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) shows reported cases of Salmonella increased in 2022 but remained below pre-COVID-19 pandemic levels.
FSA analysis suggests no major changes in the prevalence of foodborne disease during 2022-23, and the number of outbreaks that required the agency’s response remained stable. The report notes that demands for outbreak investigations on FSA resources are increasing because of whole genome sequencing (WGS) and better epidemiological information.
Since leaving the EU, there have been difficulties in managing some issues. One example is Listeria in Enoki mushrooms from Asia being identified as a risk in April 2021, and although work was carried out, efforts to get full recognition of the problem and measures in place took two years.
In one incident, following a death and two hospitalizations, the FSA analyzed food sampling data and food exposure information collected by public health and local authorities. Listeria monocytogenes was detected in two cheeses from the home of the person who died, one with much higher levels than the other.
Whole genome sequencing confirmed it was the outbreak strain. Tests on other samples from one producer ruled out one of the cheeses as the source. Results on further samples from the suspected company were confirmed to match the outbreak strain. Efforts continue to identify the root cause.
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