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Volume 4 No 31; 6 August 2010

Vulnerable groups identified for listeria food poisoning

Two HPA studies have revealed a higher incidence of listeriosis in pregnant women from ethnic minority groups and, overall, in people living in more deprived areas [1].

The results of the first study - on listeria and pregnancy - were that between 2001 and 2008 there were 1510 cases of listeriosis in England and Wales, 181 of which were in pregnant women [2]. Of these, almost 40 per cent (66 individuals out of 181) were women from an ethnic minority (established from the first and surname of the patient). The proportion of pregnant women with listeriosis from an ethnic minority increased from less than a quarter of the cases in 2001 to over half of the cases in 2008, with the greatest increase being from 2006-8 (see figure). This increase was over and above what could be expected given changes in the population structure of England and Wales during this time.

The study suggests that established food safety messages may not be reaching, or may not be heeded by, all pregnant women, particularly those from ethnic minorities [3].

In the second study - on listeria and deprivation - HPA surveillance data on all cases of listeriosis between 2001 and 2007 were compared with population data and indicators of deprivation [4]. For all patient groups, it was found that there were more cases of listeriosis in the most deprived areas of England compared to the most affluent. Additional analyses showed that as a whole, listeriosis cases in deprived areas were more reliant on convenience stores and local shops (eg butchers, bakers, etc) for their food shopping than the general population. The results suggest that deprivation is an important risk factor for listeriosis.

Total number of listeriosis cases, proportion of cases pregnant, and proportion of pregnant cases classified as ethnic, England and Wales 2001-2008 [2] Total number of listeriosis cases, proportion of cases pregnant, and proportion of pregnant cases classified as ethnic, England and Wales 2001-2008



1. Pregnant women from ethnic backgrounds at higher risk of listeria food poisoning, HPA press release, 5 August 2010. HPA website: News Centre > National Press Releases > 2010 Press Releases.

2. Mook P, Grant KA, Little CL, Kafatos G, Gillespie IA. Emergence of pregnancy-related listeriosis amongst minorities in England and Wales. Euro Surveill. 2010; 15(27). Available at:

3. During pregnancy women are advised to avoid certain foods that may be contaminated with listeria. These include undercooked ready meals, soft cheeses, cold cuts of meat and pâtés. See HPA listeria factsheet:

4. Gillespie IA, Mook P, Little CL, Grant KA, McLauchlin J. Human listeriosis in England, 2001-2007: association with neighbourhood deprivation. Euro Surveill. 2010; 15(27). Available at:

Multi-agency strategy for UK food-borne campylobacter research

A common set of objectives and priorities for research on campylobacter in the food supply chain have been agreed by the main funders on food safety research in the UK involving, in particular, the Food Standards Agency (FSA), the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) [1].

The over-arching aim of the research strategy is to reduce incidence of the infection in humans through reductions in the level of the bacterium in farm-animal hosts, and reductions in the potential for cross-contamination throughout the food chain. The inter-agency co-ordination is intended to avoid duplication of effort and ensure effective use of funding resources [2].

The food chain is the main (but not the only) source of campylobacter infection in the UK. According to the FSA, 65% of raw shop-bought chicken is contaminated with the bacterium and more than 300,000 related cases of food poisoning, and 15,000 hospitalisations, occur in England and Wales each year [3].

The new research strategy aims to identify a range of mechanisms that could significantly reduce the levels of campylobacter in the food chain and reduce the incidence of human disease. The new strategy includes:
  • research to understand current infection incidences, current food and farming practices and potential intervention strategies;
  • studies of the biology of campylobacter and the animal hosts;
  • the development of new tools and diagnostic techniques (for example, feasibility of developing a rapid on-farm test for campylobacter).

Concurrently, the FSA is working with the food industry to implement changes that are aimed at reducing campylobacter levels in UK-produced chicken and as part of this process a new target will be set by December 2010 for reducing this bacterium in chicken by 2015 [4].


1. UK research and innovation strategy for campylobacter in the food chain - 2010-2015, FSA, BBSRC, Defra, the Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Scottish Government, 21 July 2010.

2. The five principal public funders of UK food safety research are: BBSRC, Defra, the Department of Health, the FSA and the Medical Research Council. Funding has also been provided by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in Northern Ireland (DARD) and the Scottish Government.

3. New strategy to tackle food poisoning bug, FSA press release, 21 July 2010,

4. Key steps in the fight against campylobacter, FSA press release, 27 July 2010,