People in Germany often eat raw or unheated food and are not fully aware of the related risks, according to a survey.

Findings come from a special edition of the consumer monitor by the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) that focused on raw foods.

“The health risks of raw foods are often underestimated. Diseases can be avoided with simple kitchen hygiene rules. Sensitive groups of people in particular should only eat raw animal food that has been sufficiently heated,” said Andreas Hensel, BfR president.

The survey of 1,004 people in September 2022 aimed to find out which food groups are eaten raw and how often, how Germans assessed their benefits and health risks, and which pathogens are associated with which foods.

Many respondents did not feel well informed about the health risk of raw flour but more people were comfortable with hygiene recommendations and storage advice for raw food.

Awareness of risk
Particularly popular raw foods include sausage and ham, which are eaten daily or several times a week by more than a third of respondents.

At least one to three times a month, 73 percent of participants eat raw meat and sausage products, followed by soft cheese made from raw milk. Other foods eaten regularly by about a third of those surveyed are raw meat, cold-smoked fish, and frozen berries. Almost 1 in 5 drink raw milk at least one to three times a month.

When asked if snacking on raw dough that contains flour was harmful to health, 38 percent said yes but 34 percent said no. People can get sick if they eat unbaked dough, according to health officials.

The majority of respondents see a medium to high health risk with raw fish and raw seafood, raw meat, raw eggs, and raw dough. However, frozen berries, are perceived as the least risky. Other foods that most of those surveyed also associate with a low health risk are soft cheese made from raw milk, cold-smoked fish, raw sausage, and raw ham.

Although campylobacteriosis has been the most frequently reported bacterial foodborne illness in Germany and Europe for years, just under a quarter of people know about it. Slightly more than a quarter have heard of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC). Almost everyone had heard of Salmonella while more than 80 percent knew about norovirus and 69 percent about Listeriosis.

People ranked Salmonella as the highest risk of six pathogens for all 11 foods asked about. In most cases, Listeria was second.

Almost three-quarters had seen a warning on the packaging or in sales areas about heating items thoroughly before consumption but only a third were familiar with warnings on raw milk about boiling before drinking.

2022 recall stats
Meanwhile, Germany published information about 311 recalls in 2022, of which 258 were food-related.

The overall figure is more than ever before and continues an increasing trend, according to the Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL). In 2021, there were 236 food recalls, and 214 in 2020.

In more than a third of notices, microbiological contamination was the reason for the warning. The main cause was Salmonella, on 47 occasions. Food was recalled 108 times because of microbial contamination, on 44 occasions for foreign bodies, and 32 times due to allergens.

Authorities said the increase in alerts shows that companies are complying with their reporting obligations, regulations are stricter and detection methods are better. It is not that food is getting less safe.

Nuts, nut products, and snacks were the top recalled product categories, followed by grain and bakery products, meat and poultry products, and milk and dairy products.

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