Salmonella behind most meat outbreaks in China

Over a period of 15 years, Salmonella was the leading cause of outbreaks in China.

From From 2002 to 2017, China had 2,815 foodborne disease outbreaks. This included 52,122 deaths, 25,361 hospitalizations and 96 deaths. However, mandatory reporting was not required to the foodborne diseases surveillance system before 2011. 

The most frequently implicated food category was livestock meat, and its improper processing was the major contributing factor.

Bacteria were the most common pathogenic cause of outbreaks and Clostridium botulinum was the top cause of death.

The proportion of meat products in the daily lives of Chinese people is increasing, according to the study published in Foodborne Pathogens and Disease.

Incidents by meat type or agent

Due to the humid climate and high temperatures, outbreaks were seasonal and concentrated between May and September. August was the peak month.

They were mostly found in the eastern coast and southern regions. The top three provinces that had the most outbreaks were Shandong Province and Jiangsu Province. Jiangsu Province and Yunnan Province were the top three most affected by illnesses.

The top cause of outbreaks was livestock meat. This included pigs and cattle, sheep, horses and rabbits. The next was poultry meat, prefabricated products and cooked meat. Also, livestock meat was responsible for the highest number of deaths, hospitalizations, or illnesses.

Donkey meat was implicated in 38 outbreaks, and dog meat was involved in 28.

The most frequently cited item for causing outbreaks, illness, and hospitalizations was pork, while the most fatalities were caused by beef. The most deaths, illnesses, and outbreaks among poultry meat were caused by chicken.

After chemical contaminants, the leading cause of outbreaks was Bacteria. Salmonella was the most common cause, followed by Vibrio parahaemolyticus, Staphylococcus aureus, nitrites, Bacillus cereus, E. coli, and banned drugs. Salmonella caused the greatest number of hospitalizations and illnesses.

Factors and places that cause outbreaks

In 2012, nitrites were banned in Chinese food service establishments. However, they are still used as salt in homes and restaurants, leading to food poisoning.

Clenbuterol was the most commonly banned drug. Although it has been banned from livestock production since 1997 but still causes poisoning occasionally according to scientists.

Nearly 900 outbreaks were caused unidentified agents. Several were caused by animal or plant toxicants, viruses, and parasites.

Incorrect processing was the leading factor in outbreaks. The next was poor food storage, improper food handling, and cross-contamination. More than 40 cases were caused by contamination of equipment and personnel.

All outbreaks occurred most often in the home, followed closely by canteens or restaurants. Staff canteens were the most prevalent type. Street stalls and rural banquets were responsible for more than 100 cases of illness. While hospitals and restaurants dominated the list of deaths, households were at the top of the charts for illnesses and hospitalizations.

“In China, bacteria are the most critical pathogenic factors, so localities should strengthen meat and meat product regulation according to the epidemiological characteristics of foodborne disease outbreaks related to meat and meat products. The food safety awareness of residents should be improved by strengthening food safety health education, thus reducing the occurrence of foodborne diseases related to meat and meat products,” said researchers.

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