The new Food Standards Agency welcomes the Consumers' Association's drive to cut food poisoning through its 'Fit to Eat' campaign

"We are setting a tough target of reducing foodborne illness by 20 per cent by 2006," said Geoffrey Podger, Chief Executive of the Food Standards Agency.

"Food poisoning is not just a holiday problem. With up to 4.5 million people suffering each year it is a real illness that can kill people. This level of illness is unacceptable and we are working with industry and consumer groups, like the Consumers' Association, to improve standards and with local authorities to ensure they are effectively enforced.

The Agency was set up by Government in April this year to protect public health from food risks. Its target is to cut the incidence of food-borne disease by 20% by April 2006 and to reduce salmonella contamination of UK produced retail chicken by 50% by April 2005. Foodborne illness is estimated to cost the economy up to an estimated £350 million a year.

NOTES FOR EDITORS

1. The Food Standards Agency was formed in April 2000 and assumed responsibility for food safety throughout the UK. Its current funding is £87m (net). This new funding is for April 2001 - 04.

Food Poisoning

2. The Study of Intestinal Infectious Disease in England (IID) estimated that there were 9.4 million cases of IID in the community per year in 1994 and 1995, of which 1.5 million presented to their GP. The study investigated all cases of IID, not just those due to food poisoning. It is estimated that less than half the cases were due to food poisoning. The IID study estimated that the total cost of IID was at least £3/4 billion pa.

3. A number of control measures have been introduced to reduce the likelihood of contaminated food entering the food chain and to prevent spread by cross contamination of other food products. There is a general requirement for food businesses to identify and control the risks associated with their products using several of the principles of HACCP. HACCP is internationally accepted as the most effective way to manage food safety in food businesses and protect public health. It provides a structured, methodical approach to managing food safety by controlling hazards inherent in food handling and production processes. This approach has been widely adopted by the main food producers and work is now in hand to help small businesses and the catering sector develop HACCP systems appropriate to their enterprises.

4. There are also controls applicable to certain types of product. In the red meat sector , for example, these include controls to reduce carcass contamination at abattoirs and the promotion of the hygienic handling of meat and meat products throughout the distribution system. The Chief Medical Officer has also published guidance on the safe cooking of burgers. In the poultry sector, a range of measures to improve flock hygiene, together with vaccination programmes, are in place.