SCOTLAND – Food Standards Scotland (FSS) is taking a momentous step towards ensuring consumer safety by considering the implementation of thresholds for action against specific pathogens.

These measures, whether based on a UK or Scottish approach, would enable robust monitoring of pathogen trends, prompting timely interventions to safeguard public health.

However, challenges such as underreporting and the influence of external factors must be navigated carefully to accurately interpret the data.

FSS aims to enhance food safety practices by using reported infection rates of key pathogens as indicators to track changes in foodborne illnesses.

This data-driven approach would help identify when reported cases breach the action thresholds, triggering a series of targeted steps to address the situation effectively.

By focusing on pathogen monitoring, FSS seeks to ensure prompt investigation, additional food sampling associated with the pathogen, and tailored risk communication to consumers.

FSS’s strategy for reducing foodborne illness in Scotland emphasizes addressing the burden of diseases caused by microbiological pathogens.

The primary targets include Campylobacter, Salmonella, Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC), Listeria monocytogenes, and norovirus due to their high incidence rates, severe symptoms, and mortality risks.

FSS’s efforts have primarily centered around Campylobacter, Listeria, and STEC, as Salmonella cases are often acquired abroad, and norovirus infections are primarily spread through person-to-person contact.

Navigating complexity of action thresholds

Developing appropriate threshold levels for action proves challenging due to year-to-year variations and low reported case numbers for certain pathogens.

However, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has previously created a trigger system for foodborne pathogens and is currently reviewing it.

While adopting Scottish-specific levels may be problematic for low-incidence pathogens such as Listeria, UK-wide thresholds must be considered within the Scottish context.

Building upon the existing strategy, FSS has identified four additional areas of focus. Firstly, efforts will be intensified to support interventions that reduce Campylobacter prevalence, including targeted measures for chicken-related strains.

The primary targets include Campylobacter, Salmonella, Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC), Listeria monocytogenes, and norovirus due to their high incidence rates, severe symptoms, and mortality risks.


Secondly, the agency aims to minimize the risks associated with Listeria monocytogenes by supporting businesses and educating consumers, particularly in care settings.

Thirdly, FSS seeks to enhance its understanding of foodborne infection epidemiology in Scotland, providing crucial insights for future risk assessments.

Lastly, improved targeting of consumer advice will address specific risks faced by vulnerable groups.

Addressing pathogen-specific challenges

Campylobacter remains the leading cause of bacterial foodborne diseases, particularly strains associated with chicken.

FSS, in collaboration with the FSA, is undertaking an extensive plan to understand the link between chicken consumption and infection rates, strengthening interventions accordingly.

Results from a retail chicken survey focusing on pathogens and antimicrobial resistance will be published later this year.

The challenges of controlling Listeria in small to medium-sized producers have come to the forefront through outbreaks linked to smoked fish and unpasteurized cheese. FSS is exploring risk communication strategies and guidance for shelf life validation and sampling regimes to combat Listeria contamination effectively.

Scotland faces the highest reported rate of STEC in the UK. FSS is committed to commissioning an independent review to refine the definition of vulnerable groups, aiding risk assessments and targeted communication strategies for those at increased risk.

FSS will continue to monitor foodborne illness trends in collaboration with Public Health Scotland. Any changes in reporting practices that could impact the figures will guide prioritization of work.

By adapting to evolving data and employing evidence-based strategies, FSS aims to create a safer food landscape for all.

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