Since National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System (NNDSS) record-keeping began in 1991, reported cases of campylobacteriosis and salmonellosis were at the highest levels in 2016, according to the annual report put out by the Australian Department of Health that was recently released. E. coli, Listeria and Cryptosporidium food poisoning also rose across Australia in that year.
Salmonellosis is the illness caused by the bacteria Salmonella, and campylobacteriosis is caused by the Campylobacter bacteria. Both are enteric infections, which affect the intestines and are caused by viruses, bacteria, parasites or other micro-organisms. Contaminated food or water consumption are usually the root causes.
In 2016, there were 24,165 cases of campylobacteriosis in Australia, representing a seven percent increase over the previous year. Salmonella impacted more than 18,000 patients in 2016, roughly 1,000 more cases than in 2015.
How do you get campylobacteriosis and salmonellosis?
While not always food-borne, it’s common for people to fall ill from bacteria in high-risk foods such as meat, poultry, seafood and dairy. High-risk or potentially hazardous foods are those that are more likely to harbour harmful bacteria than other foods, such as dried goods.
People usually get campylobacteriosis from eating raw or undercooked poultry or anything that touched it. Its main symptom is frequent, watery diarrhoea, though it can also cause a range of symptoms including stomach pain and fever.
Salmonellosis likewise often stems from raw or undercooked meat or eggs, as well as a variety of other sources including raw fruits and vegetables, unpasteurised milk, soft cheese and other dairy products, and certain processed foods.
Poor hygiene when preparing food is also a major contributing factor.
Who is impacted?
High-risk customer groups are those who are more likely to become sick due to a compromised immune system. Pregnant women, unborn children, children under the age of five, sick people and the elderly are considered high-risk customers.
Of the campylobacteriosis cases, children aged zero to four as well as older adults aged 80 to 84 (or in females, ages 70-74) were most affected.
Salmonellosis affected children aged zero to four more than any other group — 23 percent of all cases fell into this age range.
Food poisoning can happen to anyone at any time, but vulnerable or high-risk groups are overwhelmingly the sufferers of these illnesses. In 2016, young children were the primary victims of salmonellosis and campylobacteriosis cases.
Protecting vulnerable groups
Food Handlers have a major role to play in protecting these vulnerable groups from illness. In fact, as a Food Handler, it’s your responsibility to take every precaution to avoid serving high-risk foods to vulnerable populations.
Some important guidelines:
- Only accept foods from reputable suppliers
- Make sure high-risk foods spend no more than two hours in the Temperature Danger Zone (5°C–60°C) and are thrown out after four hours
- Cook meat to a minimum internal temperature of 74°C and check with a thermometer to be sure
- Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water before and after handling food, after using the toilet, after touching your face, after coughing, sneezing, smoking or after changing a nappy
- To avoid cross-contamination, wash and sanitise surfaces such as countertops or cutting boards between handling high-risk foods such as raw chicken
The Australian Institute of Food Safety (AIFS) educates Food Handlers in proper practices to ensure these high-risk groups are protected from harmful micro-organisms that could cause illness. Our Food Handler Course is recommended for all Food Handlers, and will give you a nationally recognised skillset and meet federal food safety requirements. Contact AIFS for more details.