SWEDEN – The Swedish Food Agency, Livsmedelsverket, has announced a concerning resurgence in foodborne illnesses, with cases returning to pre-pandemic levels despite temporary declines during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the peak of the pandemic, reduced restaurant visits, social distancing, and heightened hand hygiene led to a significant drop in foodborne illnesses.

However, Livsmedelsverket’s latest report indicates a distressing rebound, with approximately 2,200 cases reported to municipal control authorities in 2022.

Vegetables emerged as the primary offenders, causing 263 cases of food poisoning, primarily due to Salmonella and Cryptosporidia contamination. Buffet food closely followed, contributing to 236 cases of foodborne illness.

Of the reported cases, 303 involved multiple individuals infected through a common source, constituting outbreaks.

Livsmedelsverket highlighted two major outbreaks in 2022 that extended into 2023. One outbreak was traced back to Salmonella-contaminated eggs, leading to stringent restrictions on the sale of raw eggs by the producer.

The second, far more devastating, was linked to Listeria monocytogenes-contaminated smoked salmon, resulting tragically in six deaths.

Handwashing and proper food handling

Livsmedelsverket emphasized the crucial role of thorough handwashing in preventing the spread of foodborne illnesses.

The report stressed that frequent handwashing, especially in food service establishments, remains paramount.

Additionally, Livsmedelsverket underscored the significance of maintaining correct temperatures for hot food items at buffets, preventing the proliferation of dangerous pathogens.

The agency recently created a new system for evaluating and categorizing Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) strains according to the potential public health impact.

The goal of the study was to fill knowledge gaps regarding the characteristics dictating the degree to which certain subtypes of STEC can cause severe illness. Researchers used information on the percentage of severe illness-related STEC infection cases in humans to do this.

The new approach is risk-based in terms of the likelihood and effects of infection, and it also increases the openness of risk management choices.

As Sweden grapples with this resurgence in foodborne illnesses, Livsmedelsverket urges citizens and food establishments alike to exercise utmost caution.

Rigorous adherence to food safety guidelines, including proper hand hygiene and stringent temperature control, is pivotal in curbing the alarming rise in cases.

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