Food Safety Report Card Shows Food-borne Illness Decline

The Food Safety Information Council has released a report card on Australia's food safety record.
June 8, 2020

The Food Safety Information Council has released a report card on Australia’s food safety record. The release was in acknowledgement of the United Nations’ World Food Safety Day on June 7. The report card revealed significant statistical information with regards to food safety and health in Australia, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

In Australia, there are an estimated 4.1 million cases of food-borne illness each year. There are approximately 31,920 hospitalisations and 86 deaths. These figures point to how important food safety is, especially in the food industry.

Cathy Moir, who is Council Chair, stated that since the lockdowns began back in March, “reported rates of Campylobacter and Salmonella infections per 100,000 people in Australia have almost halved compared with the previous two years.” She also noted that the decrease in food-borne illness cases could be related to the decrease in people gathering together due to COVID-19. She points out that food-borne illness incidents are higher when food is prepared in bulk and served to groups of people (such as self-serve and buffets). Less people getting together and entertaining in groups could account for this decrease.

Despite the improvements in food-borne illness cases, Moir stated that there are areas that need to be improved upon. She pointed to the 2019 hand washing study which revealed that “29% of Australians said they didn’t always wash their hands after going to the toilet and more than a third admit they don’t always wash their hands before touching food.” This illustrates that some Australians do not take hand washing seriously, which is a significant food safety threat. Even though more Australians are taking hand washing seriously due to COVID-19, old habits are hard to break and there is a concern that some Australians will stop washing their hands as much after the pandemic ends.

Other areas of concern are based on consumer research that illustrated 70% of Australians do not know the safe cooking temperature for potentially hazardous foods such as poultry and eggs. This is a concern as these types of foods, and dishes that contain these foods, can be contaminated with Salmonella and Campylobacter. Research also revealed that one in four adults eat raw or undercooked egg dishes, with 12% of them doing this on a monthly basis. This is another serious food safety risk that must be discouraged.

Overall, Australia’s food safety report card illustrates how food safety procedures, such as the proper hand washing technique, are effective at reducing food-borne illnesses. It is essential that as food businesses continue to reopen across the country, that people continue to wash their hands properly and frequently, especially those that work in the food industry. It is also essential that food businesses ensure that all Food Handlers within their business have valid Statements of Attainment. If not, staff must be enrolled into a nationally recognised food safety training course, such as the AIFS Food Handler course.