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Several foodborne diseases are increasing in Europe

Press Release EURO/16/03
Copenhagen, Rome, Berlin, 16 December 2003

The new report of the WHO surveillance programme for control of foodborne infections and intoxications in Europe, released on the eve of the winter holidays, provides a comprehensive picture of the prevalence of foodborne disease in European countries. The WHO Regional Office for Europe and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), which is an FAO/WHO Collaborating Centre for Research and Training in Food Hygiene and Zoonoses, combined their efforts to prepare this study.

Bundesinstitut für Risikobewertung

"Several foodborne diseases are on the rise across Europe, although progress has been made in some countries. Surveillance is essential so that evidence-based decisions can be taken to reduce food-related risks", says Dr Marc Danzon, WHO Regional Director for Europe. "WHO is supporting countries in their efforts to prioritize and implement effective public health interventions on food safety."

According to the report, registered cases of campylobacteriosis have increased continuously since 1985: this is a bacterial gastroenteric disease transmitted mainly through poultry, meat products, water and raw milk.

High incidences of the parasitic disease trichinellosis are increasingly reported in the Balkan region, owing to the consumption of pork products processed at home, without adherence to mandatory veterinary controls.

Since the mid 1990s, reports of serious zoonoses such as brucellosis (Malta fever) have been on the rise in the central Asian republics, particularly Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The increase is attributed to the socioeconomic and political changes that have led to the deterioration of the control programmes for livestock, coupled with limited awareness of the disease among the population. Brucellosis in these countries is transmitted mainly through the consumption of unpasteurized goat's and sheep's milk.

Foodborne intoxications such as botulism remain frequent in eastern Europe and in most cases are related to traditional ways of preserving foods at home. The highest incidence of botulism is reported in the Caucasus (Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia) and is attributed to the consumption of home-canned vegetables. Canning is widespread in these countries, primarily because of the high cost of fresh vegetables and the limited availability of industrially canned food.

WHO data show that, although the incidence of salmonellosis is decreasing in several countries in western Europe, Salmonella is still the most frequently reported cause of the foodborne outbreaks in the WHO European Region, responsible for around 75% of the outbreaks. Most of these outbreaks are due to the consumption of foods of animal origin, particularly insufficiently cooked eggs or foods containing raw eggs, such as mayonnaise, ice creams or cream-filled pastries. About 40% of all foodborne outbreaks in the WHO European Region over the past decade were caused by the consumption of food in private homes.

The report names several food handling factors that are critical for a large proportion of foodborne diseases:

  • the preparation of large amounts of food several hours before consumption, combined with its storage at temperatures that favour the growth of pathogenic bacteria and/or the formation of toxins;
  • insufficient cooking or reheating of food;
  • the use of contaminated raw materials;
  • contact between raw and cooked foods; and
  • food handling by people with poor personal hygiene.

Foodborne illness is often mistaken for flu, since many of the symptoms are similar: stomach pain, diarrhoea, nausea, chills, fever and headache. Symptoms can appear at any time, from 30 minutes to two weeks after an individual has been in contact with foodborne bacteria, although they are most likely to occur in the first 4-48 hours. Vulnerable groups are the elderly, children under five years of age and people with weakened immune systems.

Major foodborne disease outbreaks are caused by the advance preparation of food for celebrations at home. This fact is very relevant as winter holiday celebrations are approaching.

Fortunately, foodborne illness is almost 100% preventable. The five keys to safer food at home are as follows.

  1. Use safe water and raw materials
    Use safe water or treat it to make it safe; select fresh and wholesome foods; choose foods processed for safety such as pasteurized milk; wash fruit and vegetables, especially if eaten raw; do not use food beyond its expiry date.
  2. Keep clean
    Wash your hands before handling food and often during food preparation; clean all surfaces and equipment used in food preparation; protect kitchen areas from insects, rodents and other animals.
  3. Cook food thoroughly
    Cook food thoroughly, especially meat, poultry, eggs and seafood; bring foods such as soups and stews to boiling point to make sure they reach 70 ºC; for meat and poultry, make sure that juices are clear, not pink; reheat cooked food thoroughly.
  4. Keep food at safe temperatures
    Do not leave cooked food at room temperature for more than two hours; refrigerate promptly all cooked and perishable food (preferably below 5 ºC); keep cooked food piping hot (over 60 ºC) until served; do not store food for too long in the refrigerator; do not thaw frozen food at room temperature.
  5. Separate raw and cooked
    Separate raw meat, poultry and seafood from other foods; use separate equipment and utensils such as knives and cutting boards for handling raw foods; store food in containers to avoid contact between raw and prepared foods.

For more information on the report and the WHO Regional Office for Europe's role in strengthening surveillance and public health interventions on food safety, visit the WHO surveillance programme web site at or the WHO food safety programme at

For more information contact:


Dr Cristina Tirado
Regional Adviser for Food Safety
WHO European Centre for Environment and Health
Via Francesco Crispi 10, I-00187 Rome, Italy
Tel.: +39 06 4877525. Fax: +39 06 4877599

Dr Katrin Schmidt
Bundesinstitut für Risikobewertung, BfR
(Federal Institute for Risk Assessment)
Alt-Marienfelde 17, D-12277 Berlin, Germany
Tel: +49 1888 412 2155. Fax: +49 1888 412 2957


Ms Cristiana Salvi
Technical Officer for Communication and Advocacy
WHO European Centre for Environment and Health
Via Francesco Crispi 10, I-00187 Rome, Italy
Tel.: +39 06 4877543. Mobile: +39 348 0192305
Fax: +39 06 4877599. E-mail:

Ms Liuba Negru
Press and Media Relations Officer
WHO Regional Office for Europe
Scherfigsvej 8, DK-2100 Copenhagen Ø, Denmark
Tel.: +45 39 17 13 44. Fax: +45 39 17 18 80

Dr Irene Lukassowitz
Presse- und Öffentlichkeitsarbeit, Risikokommunikation
Bundesinstitut für Risikobewertung, BfR
(Federal Institute for Risk Assessment)
Alt-Marienfelde 17, D-12277 Berlin, Germany
Tel.: +49 8892 14195; +49 1888 412 4300
Fax: +49 1888 412 4970
Web site: