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Bad taste in mouth at Ulster's foul cafes.

FOOD bosses who plug Ulster as a gourmet's paradise are in for a real choker.

For shock statistics show that tough warnings on food safety have not been digested by the industry.

And the unpalatable truth is: Eating out can endanger your health.

That the number of reported food poisoning cases in Northern Ireland rocketed by more than 20 PER-CENT last year.

According to official statistics, 1,942 cases were reported in the 12 month period compared to 1,534 in 1997.

The figures reflect a sharp decline in hygiene standards and, say experts, a shortage of qualified catering staff.

The three most common forms of bacteria are salmonella, E-coli 1057 and camplyobacter.

In the Eastern Board region alone there were 599 reported cases of food poisoning last year compared to 540 in the previous 12 months.

But one senior health and environmental officer, who asked not to be identified, told us: "The real truth is that these statistics are just the tip of the iceberg.

"They only reflect the people who are so sick they have to visit a doctor.

"But there are thousands out there who are unwell almost day and daily because of food poisoning but do not visit their GP.

"The problem is that prosecution is always seen as the last option and little or nothing is done to weed out the rogue element within the industry.

"The industry will try to fob this off by saying that public awareness has simply led to more people reporting cases.

"That is nonsence and raises the issue that our food safety standards are simply not good enough.

"It is a very sensitive subject because of the millions at stake in the catering industry. But it's clear that at every level a blind eye is turned to cutting corners."

A spokesman for the Eastern Board also made the point that there had been a sharp increase in food poisoning in the home.

"People are living busier lives and have less time to properly prepare, store and cook food. So they tend to buy more processed foods and there is a greater danger if these are not cooked properly," he said.
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Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Jun 13, 1999
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