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EU food borne outbreaks

19 December 2016

European experts have noted an increasing trend of listeriosis since 2008, but they highlight that the number of affected people stabilised from 2014 to 2015. Infections were mostly reported in people over 64 years of age.

These are some of the findings of the latest annual report by EFSA and ECDC on zoonotic diseases, which also includes the latest trends on salmonellosis, campylobacteriosis, and foodborne outbreaks in the European Union.

Listeriosis affected about 2,200 people in 2015, causing 270 deaths – the highest number ever reported in the EU. The proportion of cases in the over 64 age group steadily increased from 56% in 2008 to 64% in 2015. Additionally, in this period, the number of reported cases and their proportion has almost doubled in those over 84 years.

“It is concerning that there continues to be an increasing trend of Listeria cases which mostly occur in the elderly population. ECDC is working together with Member States to enhance surveillance for food- and waterborne diseases, starting with Listeria, as earlier detection of relevant clusters and outbreaks can help prevent further cases,” said Mike Catchpole, Chief Scientist at ECDC. “This is a public health threat that can and needs to be addressed”, he added.

Dr. Marta Hugas, Head of Biological Hazards and Contaminants at EFSA, said: “Listeria seldom exceeded the legal safety limits in ready-to-eat foods, the most common foodborne source of human infections. However, it is important that consumers follow manufacturers’ storage instructions and the guidelines given by national authorities on the consumption of foods.”

In 2015, there were 229,213 reported cases of campylobacteriosis. This disease remains the most commonly reported foodborne disease in the EU, showing an upward trend since 2008. Campylobacter is mostly found in chickens and chicken meat.

The number of cases of salmonellosis, the second most commonly reported foodborne disease in the EU, increased slightly – from 92,007 in 2014 to 94,625 in 2015. The increase observed in the past two years is partly due to improvements in surveillance and better diagnostic methods. However, the long-term trend is still declining and most Member States met their Salmonella reduction targets for poultry populations.

Salmonella is mainly found in meat (poultry) intended to be cooked before consumption.

Foodborne outbreaks linked to non-animal foods

Foods of non-animal origin accounted for 6.6% of all strong-evidence outbreaks, and included vegetables, fruits, cereals, sprouts, herbs and spices and products thereof (4.5%), drinks and water (2.1%).

Mixed food and buffet meals, as well as other foods including unspecified foods were reported in almost a third of all strong-evidence outbreaks (13.0% and 17.5%, respectively). It is important to note that no detailed information was provided on the food vehicles (reported as ‘other foods’) that were associated with the highest number of cases reported in strong-evidence outbreaks (N = 1,275).

Compared with previous years, no significant trends for any of the food items implicated in strong-evidence food-borne outbreaks were observed, except for ‘eggs and egg products’.

There were 4,362 reported foodborne outbreaks in 2015. The most common cause of outbreaks was Salmonella associated with consumption of eggs. However, the number of Salmonella outbreaks has fallen by 41 % since 2010.

You can see the summary report here.



Out of the 365 tested units of sprouted seeds, one sample at retail was reported to be Salmonella-positive by Belgium.

Of the 3,117 units of vegetables tested, 0.2% were Salmonella-positive. Most units were tested at retail (85%) and at that sampling stage only three Salmonella-positive samples were obtained by three MS: Cyprus, Germany and the Netherlands.

In fruits, of the 1,500 tested units, none were positive for Salmonella, and the same applied to the 329 samples reported as ‘Fruit and vegetables’.

Of 1,610 units of spices and herbs tested for Salmonella, 1.1% were Salmonella-positive. The 18 positive samples originated from Sweden (eight samples, from an unspecified sampling stage) and the Netherlands (10 samples, from retail).


Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC)

STEC were detected in 2.9% of the food samples and in 6.8% of the animal samples tested. The highest proportion of STEC-positive food samples was detected in meat from ruminants (primarily sheep and goat, but also wild ruminants and cattle), followed by raw milk and dairy products, whereas the proportion of positive samples in fruit and vegetables was very low. As for sprouted seeds, the sole category for which microbiological criteria for STEC have been established in the EU, only two positive samples were reported out of the 925 analysed by 12 MS.

Altogether, 4.3% of the 650 samples of dried seeds were Salmonella-positive in 2015, most of which were collected during border inspection activities (93%) by Greece (19 out of 26 samples) and the Netherlands (7 out of 26 samples).


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