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Food Poisoning — Outbreak

Navenia Wellington

Thursday, September 24, 2020

The importance of food safety cannot be overemphasised, especially in terms of food poisoning and any related outbreaks. When one person falls sick after consuming food, this is referred to as food poisoning; in instances where two or more persons have similar symptoms, this may be classified as a foodborne illness outbreak. A common misconception is that only animal-based foods can cause such an incidence. For example, foodborne illness has been linked to bagged salads and red onions in 2020 and lettuce in 2019. Foodborne illness can occur from the consumption of any food that is contaminated with bacteria, toxins, viruses, parasites or chemicals. This proves that food can be a carrier of pathogens that are of public health importance.

Foodborne illnesses and outbreak have a serious impact on individuals and on the country at large, and in emerging economies such as Jamaica this can have a crippling effect. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that worldwide each year, unsafe food causes 600 million cases of foodborne diseases and 420,000 deaths. Of those deaths, 30% occur among children under five years of age. WHO estimated that 33 million years of healthy lives are lost due to eating unsafe food globally each year. It is important to note 33 million is an estimate in the absence accurate data due to under-reporting.

One of the important case definitions of an outbreak is that multiple individuals experience similar symptoms after consuming a common food. One of the current challenges with foodborne events in Jamaica is the lack of data; this can be linked to how Jamaicans react to symptoms of ill health. A common find in most Jamaican household is bissy, which is used as an antidote for any “belly issues” such as food poisoning; this means these occurrences are not reported to the health authorities. However, to strengthen Jamaica's public health food safety approach, information is needed and this can only come from affected persons making a report and the ensuing investigation. It is therefore imperative that when anyone is experiencing these symptoms after food consumption that it be reported. This helps to identify possible foodborne illness outbreaks and also to identify problems that may be happening in food preparation, production and distribution that may result in an illness.

The bottom line is, clean, safe food can reduce the burden of illness on the society and save lives. To prevent foodborne illness and outbreaks consideration must be given at all levels along the food chain; from farmer to consumer. Considerations such as water quality being used for cleaning and for food production; good manufacturing practices, including food storage and distribution; and enforceable regulatory standards.

Foodborne illness outbreaks are preventable; it is the responsibility of individuals along the food chain to do their part to prevent it.