Nigel Gould, Health Correspondent, reports that cases of food poisoning have soared in Northern Ireland – despite a pledge by experts to significantly reduce incidents.
New figures show a rise of some 400 cases on the overall figure for 2003.
During 2004 there were a total of 1,666 incidents of food poisoning throughout the province.
Some years ago, the Food Standards Agency had pledged to reduce cases by 20% over the five years between 2001 and 2006.
But the total in 2001 was actually lower than last year.
Last year’s figures were compounded by an outbreak of salmonella which struck down more than 70 people.
Lettuce was blamed – and the link was established as the result of a national probe, working alongside a local investigation.
It prompted public health agencies here to remind people to always refrigerate and adequately wash salad food items before eating them.
The latest statistics emerged in reply to a written House of Commons question from DUP MP Iris Robinson.
Mrs Robinson, the party’s health spokeswoman, said she believed such a reduction pledged by the FSA seemed “unlikely to be achieved in Northern Ireland”.
Mrs Robinson said: “Food poisoning can be caused by infectious agents such as bacteria, viruses and protozoa, or non-infectious toxins, chemicals and heavy metals.
“Control measures include proper storage of food, good temperature control and avoidance of cross-contamination between raw and cooked food, thorough cooking of food and high hygiene standards.”
A spokesman for the FSA said: “In its strategic plan for 2001-06, the agency set a UK-wide objective of a 20% reduction in food-borne disease.
“The agency is still on target to reach this objective and has included a commitment to continued reduction of food-borne disease in its 2005-10 strategy.
“In Northern Ireland there were three significant outbreaks of food-borne illness during 2004, including an outbreak of salmonella newport.
“As the population here is small in comparison to other parts of the UK, outbreaks on this scale can reflect very sharply in the local statistics.”