Food poisoning is rampant in Australia, as it is in all developed countries, and it’s increasing at an alarming rate, and the problem is not confined to fast foods.
Potentially lethal bacteria are turning up daily in a wide variety of foods. According to European surveys, salmonella now inhabits up to 75 per cent of chickens, listeria up to 15 per cent of soft cheeses and yersinia up to 50 per cent of raw milk.
Salmonella has also been found in other products such as fruit juices, bread and even chocolate.
Recent statistics indicate New Zealand holds pride of place in the food poisoning stakes, but Australia is not far behind. In recent years, Campylobacter cases have surged alarmingly. There were more than 14,600 new Campylobacter cases recorded in 2002, as well as more than 7,700 cases of salmonellosis and 3,200 cases of cryptosporidiosis. Critically, these officially notified cases are only the tip of the iceberg because many people with low-level symptoms don’t seek medical attention.
In all probability, between 75 and 100 million people in the United States have an encounter with food poisoning every year. As a result, more Americans suffer from food poisoning annually than from the common cold. In Australia, food-borne pathogens probably cause at least five million cases of gastroenteritis each year.
In the final analysis, there is probably no such thing as pathogen-free food. However, we do possess the means of better production and safer testing, and we do need to be more vigilant.
Food-borne illness remains one of the largest preventable public health problems in this country. We need to be much more conscious of it and how our everyday behaviour might be placing us at risk.