EFSA annual report reveals overall increase in zoonoses and foodborne disease outbreaks

Food hygiene and safety remain paramount in the food industry despite the turbulent times we live in. Food industries are trying to save costs in order to cope with rising raw material and energy prices and maintain margins. But in spite of all this mumbo-jumbo, the hygiene component, consisting of the cleaning and disinfection of facilities, and food safety are inviolable if food is to reach our tables with the greatest possible guarantees of safety. Only in this way, in addition to implementing animal health control policies, will it be possible to tackle the increase in human illnesses caused by the ingestion of spoiled food.

According to the latest annual report published a few days ago by EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) and ECDC (European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control), which provides detailed data on the occurrence of the main zoonoses reported by EU Member States and other European countries, the year 2021 saw an overall increase in cases of zoonoses and outbreaks of food-borne diseases compared to the previous year. This is possibly related to the COVID-19 control measures, which are still in place in 2021, and not forgetting the UK’s exit from the European Union, which means that data from the UK are no longer counted in this report. Thus, in 2021, the 27 EU Member States and Northern Ireland reported 4,005 foodborne outbreaks, which was 29.8% more than in 2020, and 32,543 human cases, an increase of 62.6% over the previous year. These data are close to what was reported in the 2017-2019 period before the pandemic, indicating a likely gradual return to pre-COVID-19 food consumption habits in 2021 regarding foodborne pathogen transmission, according to EFSA.

While the report shows outbreak numbers similar to those recorded before the pandemic, this trend is broken by foodborne listeriosis outbreak cases, which were higher than in 2019, recording their highest level to date. This increase in cases caused by Listeria monocytogenes is probably due, according to the EFSA report, to the use of whole genome sequencing techniques that allow the exact detection and definition of the bacterial species causing the outbreak.

However, an analysis of the outbreaks recorded across Europe during 2021 shows that the most frequent cause of outbreaks was Salmonella, in particular S. Enteritidis, which accounted for 19.3% of the total, with a total of 773 detected outbreaks of salmonellosis caused by the ingestion of eggs and egg products. In addition, outbreaks related to the consumption of products in the category “vegetables and juices and other derived products” increased significantly in 2021 compared to previous years, according to EFSA. These outbreaks were followed by Campylobacter outbreaks, which amounted to 249, and 23 Listeria outbreaks, the latter resulting in the death of 12 people. This figure rises to 208 if we take into account ECDC data that do not come from localised outbreaks.


The two most reported diseases

The report also includes the total number of reported cases of zoonoses, which are not necessarily related to outbreaks. In 2021, the two most reported diseases in humans were campylobacteriosis and salmonellosis, both related to gastrointestinal problems, with a total of 127,840 and 60,050 cases respectively. Campylobacteriosis remains the most frequently reported zoonosis. The number of reported cases increased last year by 7,000 notifications compared to 120,946 in 2020, with chicken and turkey meat being the most common source of this disease. Salmonellosis was the second most reported pathology. These two diseases were followed by yersiniosis with 6,789 cases, which is often associated with the consumption of undercooked pork or vegetables, infections caused by Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli with 6,084 cases and listeriosis with 2,183 cases across Europe. Both agents can cause severe and even fatal foodborne illnesses, especially in high-risk population subgroups such as immunocompromised persons, children, pregnant women and the elderly.

Figura 1. Casos confirmados de zoonosis en la UE en 2021 (Fuente: EFSA)

EFSA Journal 2022.20:e07666

Based on the results, proper hygiene of facilities, as well as biosecurity policies in animal husbandry, are paramount to reduce the risk of food-borne infections. In this sense, it is important to note the importance and rigour in the compliance of hygiene control programmes, the implementation of specific programmes against certain pathogens, e.g. Salmonella in poultry populations such as breeding hens, laying hens and broilers, … In summary, reviewing and updating cleaning and disinfection protocols is necessary to curb the trend that we see reflected in the EFSA annual report.



Joan Estornell

Marketing Manager Food Hygiene at CHRISTEYNS. Bachelor of Information Sciences. Master in Advertising Accounts Management. Strategic Innovation in Marketing and Advertising (UAB). Master in Digital Business. Digital Marketing (ESIC Business & Marketing School). Hygienist Course in the Food Industry (Betelgeux).


Equipo Betelgeux

Team CHRISTEYNS Food Hygiene

Company specialized in food safety with headquarters Belgium. With more than 25 years of experience, we offer innovative and effective solutions to the specific hygiene problems of food factories, as well as livestock farms, through a wide range of products, equipment and services designed for the proper cleaning and disinfection of facilities.

Similar Stories