Man with bacteria in the stomach

The Crippling Problem of Food Poisoning

New Zealand might be one of the most pristine countries in the world, but it also has a dark secret: it has a high rate of food poisoning. Back in 2004, this condition was responsible for more than 450,000 sick days and healthcare cost of at least $55 million.

While nobody knows why, the root cause might be a combination of many things. These can range from unhygienic food processing to a lot of eat-outs.

What Poisons New Zealanders?

On June 2019, New Zealand Food Safety encouraged people to cook mussels. This was after an increased incidence of food poisoning for the past six weeks due to a marine microorganism.

This was not the first case of the year. On January 2019, the Auckland Regional Public Health Service warned the region’s residents on the dangers of campylobacter bacteria. The agency noticed a significant spike of reported cases from 2017 to 2018—110% to be exact.

Contrary to popular belief, not all kinds of food poisoning are deadly outright. Many can even suffer from it without knowing it.

The symptoms, however, such as abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and vomiting are harmful to high-risk groups. These are children, seniors, and people with a weak or compromised immune system.

Food poisoning is also a complex issue to deal with since it can occur at any point during the supply chain. For instance:

  • During food manufacturing or processing, employees with poor hygiene can pass on bacteria to the food. If the plant does not have the right equipment, such as a food-grade centrifugal pump, some types of waste can still be part of the food.
  • Cross-contamination can happen among assembly lines.
  • During transport, if the vehicle does not have enough ventilation, it can spoil the food fast or increase the growth of bacteria and mold.

Workers might also deliberately contaminate the food, whether to harm consumers or to prank. Take, for example, the case of Ut Trinh. Australia arrested the 50-year-old strawberry farm supervisor after authorities matched her DNA with the needles embedded in the fruits.

woman about to vomit

The Steps to Take

Food poisoning is a serious problem that puts many essential things on the line. These include people’s health, the country’s economy, and jobs of thousands. Prompt and correct interventions are, therefore, necessary:

  • Manufacturers need to follow New Zealand’s food safety guidelines and laws, which the country amends from time to time to make sure they are up to standard with the rest of the world.
  • Simple or basic hygiene practices can already go a mile. These include washing hands with clean water regularly, thawing meat at the right temperature, or storing produce correctly.
  • Invest in industry- and food-grade equipment.
  • Perform quality control not only on the products but also on the processes and people behavior and flow.
  • Enforce harsher penalties for those who commit food contamination or poisoning crimes.

These steps will not guarantee food poisoning will no longer happen. But they can significantly reduce the chances and make companies and people involved become more accountable and careful.