Listeriosis, the foodborne illness caused by listeria, is relatively rare but listeria causes more deaths from food poisoning in the UK than other foodborne bugs. Vulnerable groups of the population are at increased risk. The Agency aims to reduce the number of cases of listeriosis in the UK by the year 2015 through the Listeria Risk Management Programme.
Between 2000 and 2009, the annual number of laboratory-confirmed cases of listeriosis more than doubled from 114 to 234 cases in the UK. In 2010, there was a drop in laboratory-confirmed cases (to 174), although this remains above levels observed in the 1990s.
Listeriosis has a significant public health and economic impact because of its high hospitalisation and mortality rate. Most people infected with listeria are hospitalised and approximately a third die. The disease costs the UK economy an estimated £245 million a year.
About the Listeria Risk Management Programme
The five-year Listeria Risk Management Programme comprises three main workstreams, each informed by research and surveillance:
- Consumer behaviours and actions: activities to raise awareness and promote behaviours and actions to reduce the risk of listeriosis among key vulnerable groups, e.g. older people, pregnant women and people with existing medical conditions, particularly cancer patients.
- Procurement and provision of food to vulnerable people: activities to ensure the risk of listeriosis is considered as part of food procurement and food safety management in places where vulnerable people are cared for, e.g. hospitals.
- Industry compliance and enforcement: activities to improve industry compliance with the law focusing on sectors producing foods that are high-risk for Listeria monocytogenes, and to ensure enforcement in this area is robust and consistent.
To achieve the greatest impact, activities are being targeted at specific high-risk food industry sectors and particular vulnerable groups of the population and the places where they are cared for.
To deliver this work the Agency will be working in partnership with government departments, health protection agencies, non-governmental organisations, the NHS, local authorities and the food industry.
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Hospitals and settings such as nursing or residential care homes are legally responsible for the safety of food they provide to the people in their care. Between 1999 and 2011, there were eight outbreaks of foodborne listeriosis in UK hospitals, which resulted in a total of eight deaths. Two fatalities have been reported from hospitals in Northern Ireland and Wales during 2012.