Australian scientists have found the incidence of foodborne illness has declined over the past decade but the two leading causes of hospitalization -- Salmonella and Campylobacter -- have increased significantly.
Researchers from the Australian National University (ANU) released on Thursdaytracked the changes in foodborne illness in Australia between 2000 and 2010.
They discovered that about a quarter of the 16 million cases of gastroenteritis in 2010 were caused by food contamination -- a fall of 17 percent on the figure from 2000.
However, bucking that trend, the ANU scientists found the number of cases of the two leading causes of hospitalization, Salmonella and Campylobacter, increased by 24 percent and 13 percent respectively, even if they accounted for only a small fraction of total cases of foodborne illness.
"On average, each Australian has an episode of foodborne gastroenteritis once every five years," said Associate Professor Martyn Kirk from the ANU National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health.
"Australian authorities have worked hard in the last decade to ensure a safe food supply, it is disappointing not to see a decline in Salmonella and Campylobacter infections," he said.
Salmonella bacteria can be carried in undercooked chicken or eggs, while Campylobacter is commonly found in raw or undercooked poultry meat and raw milk.
While the number of Salmonella and Campylobacter cases increased, they accounted for only around five percent of cases of foodborne illness.
Associate Professor Kirk said the microbiological cause of 80 percent of foodborne illnesses remained unknown.
"People often don't find out the cause of their illness, either because they don't visit a doctor, or they don't have a test," said Kirk.
Co-researcher Kathryn Glass said people can avoid foodborne illness by keeping their hands clean when preparing food, keeping food refrigerated, keeping cooked and raw meat separate, and by ensuring meats are properly cooked.
"The key thing is that people who are infected should maintain good hygiene, including washing their hands and not preparing food while they are ill," she said.
The findings have been published in two papers in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.
The research was funded by the Commonwealth Department of Health, Food Standards Australia New Zealand and the New South Wales Food Authority.