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The BBC's Nicola Carslaw
"Restaurants and caterers can carry on poisoning us for years and get away with it"
 real 56k

Wednesday, 6 September, 2000, 10:05 GMT 11:05 UK
Food poisoning 'rife and under-reported'
Mouldy food
Mouldy food photographed by inspectors
The Consumers' Association (CA) has launched a campaign for safer food - as food poisoning cases continue to rise.

There has been a four-fold increase in reported food poisoning cases in the last 20 years. Last year 97,000 cases were reported.

But the CA, which surveyed 1,000 members of the public, says the problem could be much worse as many people fail to report their illness.


We should be able to take for granted that the food we eat is safe

Sheila McKechnie, Consumers' Association

This could be partly due to the fact that some food poisoning bugs can take several days to take effect - so by the time the patient feels ill, they cannot pinpoint a cause.

There is also concern that doctors are failing in their legal duty to report all food poisoning cases to the local health authority.

The CA estimates that the real number of food poisoning cases could be 30 times as high as the official figure.

It says the fact that so many cases go unreported mean that the food industry has been allowed to get away with bad practice.

As part of its "Fit To Eat" campaign, it plans to examine all stages of the food chain to identify where producers, processors and retailers may need to clean up their act.

Food poisoning will be the first subject under the microscope, but the CA will also investigate other areas of food safety such as the use of pesticides and chemical contaminants.

Safety rules broken

Bug in food
Inspectors found a bug on this danish pastry

According to a recent Food Standards Agency (FSA) report, almost half of UK food premises inspected last year broke food safety rules.

The FSA has already pledged to make combating food poisoning a top priority.

But the CA is calling on the FSA to:

  • lobby the EU to introduce licensing of all food premises before they operate
  • inform consumers about how individual local eateries and food stores fare in Environmental Health Officer (EHO) inspections
  • ensure a sufficient number of EHO inspections are carried out to combat the increasing number of food safety violations
  • encourage and educate the public about reporting suspected food poisoning
  • increase efforts to ensure that a risk-based approach - with more onus on businesses to identify and control food safety hazards - is adopted across the whole food chain
Sheila McKechnie, Director of Consumers' Association, said: "We should be able to take for granted that the food we eat is safe.

"Producers, processors, caterers and retailers all have some responsibility to take active steps to ensure substantial improvements in food safety.

"Our campaign - Fit to Eat - will shine a spotlight on lurid practices in the food industry, including a persistent lack of basic hygiene in commercial kitchens.

"Action is needed across all stages of the food chain if the situation is to improve.

"Procedures for reporting and dealing with food poisoning must also be improved."

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See also:

26 Aug 00 | Health
Salmonella cases 'rise'
28 Jul 00 | Health
Tough targets on food poisoning
19 Jul 00 | Health
Concern over food safety record
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