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Partnership puts Spotlight on Bugs

The New Zealand Food Safety Partnership

3 November 2000

'Food borne illness' has reached alarming levels in New Zealand with an estimated 120,000 or more cases occurring each year. The illness occurs when food contaminated with disease-causing living germs or their poisons is consumed. Symptoms can range from mild nausea, vomiting or diarrhoea to severe illness resulting in hospital admission or rarely, even death.

In response to the increase of food borne illness in New Zealand a national campaign promoting food safety in homes begins today, November 3.

The campaign is organised by the New Zealand Foodsafe Partnership a group made up of food industry organisations, health services, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and consumer groups.

An estimated 20-40% of food borne illness can be attributed to the incorrect handling of food between the shop and the table.

Foodsafe Partnership spokesperson, Dr Greg Simmons, says this campaign, is a co-ordinated attempt to reduce the level of food borne illness, due to incorrect handling of food by the consumer. "All New Zealanders are food consumers and, if they handle food properly, they can provide a crucial last line of defence against food borne illness."

Contrary to popular belief, food borne illness is not usually caused by the most recently consumed food. For instance in Listeria infection, illness can occur weeks after eating contaminated food. The incidence of reported food borne illness in New Zealand (including Campylobacter and Salmonella infection) reached record highs in 1998. The number of cases of Campylobacter infection notified to public health authorities was 11,580 in 1998, three times that reported in Australia and twice that of the United Kingdom. Dr Simmons says modern lifestyles mean that consumers demand more and more convenience foods. "But we also want foods with fewer preservatives and additives. We want fresh foods but we only want to shop once a week. With new technology, industry has delivered a huge range of fresh ingredients and ready-to-eat or ready-to-cook meal solutions. These foods are very convenient but must be looked after properly to keep them safe." There are a limited number of germs that cause food borne illness and, in general, these are introduced into the kitchen by unclean hands or on raw food. The campaign focuses on very specific ways consumers can reduce the risk of food borne illness in their homes.

The four key messages are Clean, Cook, Cover and Chill.

Clean - A focus on hand hygiene, cleaning food preparation surfaces, chopping boards and utensils between tasks.

Cook -Ensuring that food is thoroughly cooked.

Cover - Covering food to prevent contamination.

Chill - Keeping perishable foods in the refrigerator.

If a long period of time elapses between purchasing cold foods and putting them in the refrigerator, use a chilly bin with a chiller pad to keep them cold. Chiller pads should also be used to keep cold picnic foods chilled.

Don't forget to always check the use-by dates on foods ? if in doubt, throw it out.

Dr Simmons says that if these simple steps are carefully adhered to, the risk of food- borne illness in the home will be reduced.

Contact : Greg Simmons, Auckland Healthcare (09) 623 4613, 025 884657, (09) 410 5759; Sally Giles, Hutt Valley Health (04) 570 9303, 025 2853489; Barry Armstrong (03) 379 9480

Sue McCabe Media Advisor Communications DDI: 496 2067 Fax: 496 2010 Mobile: 025 495 989 Ministry of Health

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