Foodborne disease outbreaks in Australia, 2001-2008

Background: Foodborne disease outbreaks are an important cause of preventable gastrointestinal illness in Australia. Data on these outbreaks have been collected in a national OzFoodNet outbreak register since 2001. OzFoodNet is a network of epidemiologists around Australia dedicated to enhancing surveillance of foodborne illness and investigating foodborne disease outbreaks. The aim of this study is to analyse national outbreak data to improve our understanding of and provide evidence for minimising future foodborne disease outbreaks in Australia.

Methods: A descriptive analysis of all foodborne or suspected foodborne disease outbreaks reported to the national outbreak register, between 2001 and 2008, was undertaken. An outbreak was defined as two or more cases of gastroenteritis associated with a common meal or food source. Outbreaks were described and compared by year, the location of persons affected, aetiology, setting and implicated food vehicle.

Results: There were 880 foodborne or suspected foodborne outbreaks reported in Australia between 2001 and 2008, affecting a total of 14,052 people, with 1,167 hospitalised and 30 deaths. Of outbreaks with known aetiology (563/880, 64% of total), Salmonella caused 49%, Campylobacter 6% and Norovirus 14%. A specific food vehicle was identified in 33% of these outbreaks (289/880), with 15% of these implicating dishes potentially containing raw eggs and 11% poultry products.

Conclusions: This study showed Salmonella to be the most frequently identified aetiological agent with eggs and poultry products being the most frequently identified food vehicles in Australian foodborne or suspected foodborne disease outbreaks from 2001-2008. These results will be communicated to food regulators, policy makers and food communicators to inform the development of food regulations and for the prioritisation of food safety strategies, to prevent and control future foodborne illness. 

Author (s): 

Kate H. Astridge 1,2, M. Kirk 2, K. Knope 2, M. McPherson 1 1. National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health (NCEPH), Australian National University (ANU), Canberra, Australia. 2. OzFoodNet, Australian Government Department of Health and Agein

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