The annual number of food poisoning cases being seen in the UK is now approximately one million, new figures have revealed.
According to the Food Standards Agency (FSA), there are more than 500,000 cases of food poisoning a year resulting from 13 known pathogens.
However, the FSA believes that if cases that can not be attributed to a specific pathogen are factored in, the figure comes close to the one million mark.
The FSA highlighted Campylobacter as the most common pathogen that causes food poisoning, as it was found to be responsible for around 280,000 cases each year. This put it ahead of Clostridium Perfringens, which was responsible for 80,000 food poisoning cases, while norovirus was said to have caused about 74,000 illnesses.
Steve Wearne, Director of Policy at the FSA, noted that reducing Campylobacter is currently the organisation's main food safety priority, "That is borne out by this research," he commented and went on to say "We recently revised our Campylobacter strategy and we, in collaboration with industry, must now push on to find the solutions that will stop so many getting ill."
Professor Sarah O'Brien of the University of Liverpool, who led the study for the FSA, added that the findings will help the regulator to "target its resources more effectively in tackling food poisoning".
"They confirm that the FSA is right to put campylobacter at the top of its priority list," she said. "It is the biggest food safety problem we have and more needs to be done to tackle it."
Other key findings in the FSA report included the figure that Salmonella is responsible for approximately 2,500 food poisoning hospital admissions every year, more than any other pathogen.
Causes of Food Poisoning
The majority of food poisoning cases identified by the FSA concerned poultry meat, accounting for an annual number of about 244,000 cases. This was followed by food poisoning cases involving produce such as fruit, vegetables, seeds and nuts, with these being responsible for around 48,000 illnesses.
Beef and lamb were also found to be a major cause of food poisoning symptoms, with these meats implicated in approximately 43,000 cases.
The FSA has confirmed it now intends to carry out additional research in order to establish figures for other agents that cause food poisoning, as some are still unknown.
In addition, the regulator confirmed it wants to gather more data on fatalities linked to food poisoning, as well as hospital occupancy rates and how much money foodborne disease costs the UK economy.
This comes shortly after Catherine Brown, Chief Executive of the FSA, warned that campylobacter is a "serious issue" that can cause severe illness and death.
She also noted that this problem costs the economy hundreds of millions of pounds a year, since sickness absence racks up costs for businesses and places a burden on the NHS.
Ms Brown confirmed that the FSA has a wide-ranging plan to tackle campylobacter, with advice offered to the public and the whole of the food chain, including producers and farmers.
"We are committed to acting on campylobacter and providing safer food for the nation," she added.