Food Safety Week focuses on new statistics releases and claims

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 7th November 2011

The theme of this year’s Australian Food Safety Week, which began today (7 November 2011), is vulnerable populations which, according to the Food Safety Information Council, are growing rapidly in Australia.

Australian Food Safety Week is the major activity of the Food Safety Information Council which aims to address the estimated 5.4 million cases of food borne illness in Australia each year. It will run from today  until 13 November 2011.

According to data taken from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), Australia’s official statistical organisation, the number of vulnerable Australians at most risk from food poisoning is increasing.

According to the data, in Australia food poisoning results, on average, in 120 deaths, 1.2 million visits to doctors, 300,000 prescriptions for antibiotics, and 2.1 million days of lost work each year. The estimated annual cost of food poisoning in Australia is A$1.25 billion, a figure which is rising year on year, according to the Food Safety Information Council, a non-profit disseminator of consumer-targeted food safety information.

Vulnerable population groups increases

Dr Michael Eyles, Chairman of the Food Safety Information Council, said that for unborn babies, young children, people mid-60s or older and those who have poor immunity because of illness or medical treatment, food poisoning can be life-threatening.

According to ABS’ data, released by the Food Safety Information Council today, in the past 20 years the number of Australians over 63-years-old increased by 13.6 per cent, and those over 85-years-old increased by 170.6 per cent to 398,200. The number of children aged 0-4 years increased by 38,500.

Demographics increases vulnerabilities

Dr Eyles said that those Australians covered by these statistics are particularly vulnerable to food poisoning for valid scientific reasons including:

  • No matter how fit and healthy, those older than mid-60s have less resistance to food poisoning bacteria.
  • People suffering an illness or undergoing medical treatment, such as chemotherapy, are likely to have compromised immune systems putting them at particular risk from food poisoning.
  • Young children do not have fully developed immune systems until around eight years of age.
  • Pregnant women have reduced immune systems and their unborn babies are at particular risk of Listeria infection.

Dr Eyles said, “These groups are growing rapidly. This increases the likelihood that either we may be in the vulnerable group ourselves or we may be preparing food for someone who is. In either case we must be extra cautious with our choice of foods and how we handle foods to avoid food poisoning.”

Big improvement claimed for NSW by Minister on food safety

Meanwhile, the NSW Minister for Primary Industries, Katrina Hodgkinson today claimed that food safety non-compliance by retail food businesses in New South Wales has dropped significantly. The claim was based on a Local Government Activity Report published today.

Minister Hodgkinson, who is responsible for food safety in New South Wales said, “This year’s compliance rate sits at 94.2 per cent – an increase of two percentage points on the previous year. This is good news for consumers and food businesses that are following food safety standards.”

According to the annual report, the rate of non-compliance has decreased over the past three years, from 10 per cent in 2008-09, to 7.8 per cent in the following year and 5.8 per cent in 2010-11. The report also found that the average compliance rate among retail food outlets in rural and regional areas of New South Wales is 96 per cent.

Ms Hodgkinson congratulated the State’s retail food outlets but said there is still room for improvement.

She said, “It’s clear that food businesses are trying harder to comply with food safety standards but there is a small group that aren’t taking their responsibility to diners seriously. Enforcement actions such as penalties, seizures and prosecutions are still necessary but this report highlights that intervention and support are an effective means of encouraging compliance.”

The report said that New South Wales councils undertook a total of 61,046 inspections of the 38,475 ‘high risk’ and ‘medium risk’ retail food businesses across New South Wales that required inspection. Councils also issued 1,374 penalty notices, a decrease of 32 per cent on the previous year.