The report ‘Recording of foodborne infections and food poisoning in 2013’ issued by RIVM and the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) shows a total of 290 outbreaks involving 1,460 cases of foodborne infection or food poisoning. This is the first time that data from both organisations have been combined in a single study, and it is clear that the number of outbreaks has risen slightly in recent years while the number of cases has remained more or less stable. 2012 is an exception. In that year as many as 1,149 people fell ill in a nationwide outbreak of Salmonella Thompson caused by eating contaminated smoked salmon.

Hygiene measures

By no means everyone who falls ill after eating food notifies their GP or the NVWA. The total number of cases of foodborne infection or food poisoning is therefore much higher than the number of recorded reports. An estimated 680,000 people fall ill in the Netherlands every year as a result of eating contaminated food. Many of these foodborne infections occur in the home kitchen and can be prevented by paying stricter attention to food safety. Besides taking hygiene measures such as washing hands before preparing food, it is important to avoid ‘cross-contamination’ in the kitchen. This can be done by using separate knives and chopping boards for raw and cooked foods.

Recording and investigation

RIVM and the NVWA record cases of disease caused by foodborne infections and food poisoning. The NVWA tests food and inspects places where food is prepared. In the event of an outbreak affecting larger numbers of people, the Municipal Public Health Services (GGDs) interview those exposed to contaminated food. The GGDs then report their findings to RIVM.

As in previous years, Campylobacter and norovirus were the most common causes of outbreaks of food-related disease. Both accounted for the same number of outbreaks, but norovirus produced the highest number of cases. Salmonella caused significantly fewer outbreaks and cases than in previous years.

Difference between foodborne infections and food poisoning

Foodborne infections are caused by eating food contaminated with a bacterium, virus or parasite. Infections can lead to inflammation of the stomach, intestines or other organs, with patients then suffering from diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, cramps and fever. Infection sometimes passes unnoticed. Symptoms generally do not occur until at least eight hours after eating contaminated products. This is in contrast to food poisoning, which is caused by toxins released by certain types of bacteria. In this case, symptoms often occur within a few hours of eating contaminated food. Foodborne infections are often a result of poor hygiene.