In Australia, there are around 5.4 million cases of food poisoning each year resulting in an average of 120 deaths.
Approximately 2.1 million days are taken off work due to food poisoning and 1.2 million doctor consultations take place with 300,000 antibiotic prescriptions issued.
A recent report by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) considered the costs of various foodborne pathogens on the US economy each year. In this article, we'll take a look at the top 10 costliest foodborne pathogens and their impact in Australia.
Salmonella is the clear leader in the costliest foodborne pathogens chart costing the US economy a whopping $3.7 billion a year. These costs arise from medical expenses, time away from work and costs associated with deaths. Australians also suffer greatly from salmonella-related food poisoning with hospitalisation incidents due to Salmonella poisoning raising by 24% in the last decade. Just last week, more than 80 people fell ill with Salmonella poisoning after eating at a Chinese restaurant south of Brisbane.
Not far behind Salmonella in the chart is Toxoplasma Gondii, causing 343 deaths and costing $3.3 billion per year in the US. Toxoplasma Gondii is a parasite that can infect humans who eat raw or undercooked meat, water, soil or vegetables containing infected cysts. About forty percent of the world's population is infected with the parasite with no ill effects although it can be particularly dangerous to pregnant women and unborn children. The numbers are thought to be so high in the US due to contaminated pork products.
With only around one-thousandth of the reported cases of Salmonella, Listeria still proves to be a costly pathogen costing the US $2.8 billion per year. This is due to its high fatality rate. In one Australian incident in 2013, a Listeria outbreak from contaminated cheese led to three fatalities and one miscarriage from just 26 reported cases. As well as the usual food poisoning symptoms of vomiting, diarrhoea and nausea, Listeria can cause severe reactions including septicaemia and meningitis.
By far the most common cause of food poisoning in the US (although not the costliest hence it's position at number 4) is Norovirus. Almost 5,500,000 cases of Norovirus poisoning are reported in the US each year. In Australia, we usually hear about Norovirus poisoning affecting people on cruise ships. One popular cruise ship in Australian waters, the Sea Princess, was reportedly hit by norovirus outbreaks in September and again in December in 2014.
Campylobacter hit the headlines in November last year when it was reported that over 70% of supermarket chickens in the UK contained dangerous levels of the bacterium. And with every Australian consuming approximately 43 kilograms of chicken per year, we're not immune. In fact, it's the second leading cause of food poisoning related hospitalisations in Australia after Salmonella.
One of the most common causes of food poisoning in the United States, Clostridium perfringens causes diarrhoea and stomach cramps (but no vomiting), and is often caused by eating beef, poultry or gravy that has been sitting in the danger zone for too long. It's not so common in Australia but in 2008, ten elderly people died at a Blue Mountains nursing home in New South Wales following a Clostridium perfringens outbreak which affected more than eighty residents.
A particularly nasty bacterium that lives in warm seawater, the US reports just 96 recognised cases of Vibrio vulnificus resulting in 36 deaths. The bacteria is related to the causative agent for cholera and infections occur after eating raw or undercooked oysters. The bacteria doesn't change the taste, appearance or odour of the oysters so it's near impossible to identify. Australian cases are rare with Queensland Health reporting just 16 cases of infection in 2010/2011.
Often acquired by eating insufficiently cooked pork or contaminated water, meat or milk, Yersinia enterocolitica causes diarrhoea and fever with symptoms often resembling appendicitis. Incidents in Australia are far lower than in the United States, thought to be as a result of Australians consuming less pork than our American counterparts.
E. coli O157
E.coli is a dangerous bacteria that can cause kidney failure and death and is often ingested through undercooked meat products and raw milk. It can grow extremely quickly and 10 cells can become 100 million cells within 6 hours at the right temperature. It only takes just 10 cells to make someone sick. E. coli 0157 has been linked to the raw milk scandal in Victoria late last year when a young child died and several others became sick after drinking unpasteurised milk not intended for human consumption.
Vibrio (all other non-cholera species)
Related to number 7 on our chart, the final item on our list is Vibrio (non-cholera species) for which over 17,500 cases are reported annually in the US. As with Vibrio vulnificus, these infections are usually caused by eating seafood such as oysters, prawns or crabs. Vibrio outbreaks are not common in Australia.