Report into international foodborne disease rates

04 August 2020

Article: 54/3106

A report published by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has found it is not possible to compare foodborne disease rates effectively between countries. This is due to the hugely different methodologies and recording systems employed. Researchers compared the ways different countries estimate how many people suffer from food poisoning each year, in an effort to determine whether these rates can be reliably compared.

The study, commissioned by the FSA and carried out by Public Health England (PHE), uncovered three broad approaches used globally: 

  • Prospective cohort studies – a sample population is recruited in advance, then report weekly on any symptoms of illness and submit samples so specific causes can be determined. 
  • Surveillance pyramid studies – an estimation of the number of cases missed through under-diagnosis and under-reporting, by using multipliers to extrapolate from laboratory confirmed illnesses. 
  • Retrospective cross-sectional surveys – a representative sample of the population is contacted and asked about their symptoms in the recent past.

Countries need to calculate foodborne disease estimates due to under-reporting, as not everyone who suffers from infectious intestinal disease will seek medical help and those who do will not always get a confirmed diagnosis. The data can then inform a country’s own food policy and prioritisation of resources.

Researchers concluded that the UK is using the most accurate approach available (prospective cohort studies).

Source: FSA, 30 July 2020