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Every year in Europe, some 23 million people are sickened by foodborne diseases, in which approximately 4700 people die, according to estimates published a review of the most recent available data entitled “The burden of foodborne diseases in the WHO European Region”.

Image/Robert Herriman

And this may be only scratching the surface as the true number of cases is unknown.

“Every country around the world, from small to big, from rich to poor, has suffered from foodborne illnesses, and Europe is no exception. The scale of the challenge posed by foodborne disease is striking, indicating the importance of preventing and mitigating risks to food safety,” says Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe.

Norovirus is the most frequent causes of foodborne illness in Europe with an estimated 15 million cases, followed by Campylobacter spp., which is responsible for almost 5 million cases.

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Non-typhoidal Salmonella spp. causes the majority of deaths. Other major causes of deaths are Campylobacter spp., norovirus, Listeria monocytogenes and Echinococcus multilocularis. Overall in the Region, diarrheal diseases are responsible for 94% of foodborne illnesses, 63% of related deaths and 57% of the disease burden.

Unsafe food is responsible for millions of sick days, and can sometimes lead to lasting or severe illness, hospitalization and even death. The overall burden of foodborne disease in the Region is estimated to be 413 020 disability-adjusted life-years, meaning years in which a person’s life is affected by a disease.