NZ Food Safety 2022 Annual Report concerning Foodborne Diseases in NZ

19 September 2023

Foodborne Diseases in NZ

This report is important and interesting reading for anyone working in the health, food safety and retail food sectors. It is the latest in a series providing a consistent source of data annually to monitor trends in foodborne illness in New Zealand. The report provides information that New Zealand Food Safety (NZFS), NZFSSRC and the food industry can use to prioritise research strategies to make food produced in Aotearoa New Zealand safer for all consumers.

Interestingly, it is noted that due to COVID-19 lockdowns, and associated changes in consumer behaviour, there was a reduction in the number of many foodborne diseases in 2020 and 2021. However, 2022 has seen, for some foodborne diseases, hints of a return to normal. Of course, we must remember that we are talking about people, not numbers, and the effects of foodborne illness can be very serious indeed. For example, with regard to hospitalisation, the report summary says:

“In the past two years there was a pronounced increase in hospital admissions (a significant burden on the health sector), especially so for campylobacteriosis, yersiniosis, and STEC [shiga-toxin producing E. coli] infection[s]; the latter associated with the serious sequelae haemolytic uraemic syndrome that often requires an extended stay in hospital and occasionally involves intensive care.”

 “Specific reasons for the increase in hospitalisation rates are unknown but could have resulted from delays in seeking medical attention, causing the health of infected people to deteriorate so much that they then required hospitalisation, people infected with long COVID contracting more severe illness that required hospitalisation, or increased cost of living and a shortage of GPs which might have led to situations where people went straight to hospital, bypassing primary health care.”

Commenting on the report, NZFSSRC Chief Scientist, Distinguished Professor Phil Bremer (University of Otago), says also of concern is the number of cases of listeriosis, which while low in total, results in a very high rate of hospitalisation and is associated with fatality in frail elderly, immune-compromised people, and foetal loss in pregnancy. “It has been bad enough that despite regulatory authorities, researchers and the food industry all working hard to reduce the number of listeriosis cases, the number has been relatively stable for the past 20 years, without now seeing an increase in the number of notified cases.”

The control of Listeria monocytogenes and Campylobacter spp. will continue to be a focus for the NZFSSRC.

Dr Libby Harrison, Director, NZFSSRC