In 2023, Helsinki experienced an increase in food poisoning incidents, according to the latest findings from the city's food safety inspections. Despite conducting 3,007 food inspections and handling 878 new notifications from food operators—a slight increase from the previous year—the city faced challenges in ensuring food safety. The inspections, which covered 5,789 food establishments in Helsinki, revealed that 49% received an "excellent" rating in their Oiva assessments, reflecting compliance with food safety standards.
However, 15% of the establishments had areas needing improvement, primarily related to self-monitoring, hygiene, packaging labels, temperature control, and facility cleanliness.
A significant finding from last year's inspections was the higher number of reported food poisoning suspicions, totaling 795 incidents, a noticeable rise from 654 in 2022. These reports spanned 520 different establishments, hinting at a possible increase in restaurant dining or a greater awareness among operators about their obligation to report. Despite the increase in reports, the causes of many individual food poisoning cases remained unclear, with actual foodborne illnesses rarely linked directly to the suspected dining experience.
The city also investigated 13 food poisoning outbreaks in collaboration with the social, health, and rescue services' epidemiological operations. Notably, norovirus was identified as the culprit in four outbreaks, with three attributed to asymptomatic, norovirus-positive kitchen staff members. One notable outbreak involved contaminated oysters leading to 150 people falling ill. These oysters, sourced from the Netherlands, France, and Ireland, were removed from the market following the discovery of norovirus contamination.
Oysters, often consumed raw, are recognized as common vehicles for norovirus transmission due to their filtration of water potentially contaminated with human fecal matter. The virus can be eliminated by heating the oysters to +90 degrees Celsius for two minutes.
In addition to foodborne illnesses, Helsinki's food safety officials responded to 95 authority requests from the Finnish Food Authority (Ruokavirasto) concerning the presence of hazardous or non-compliant food or contact materials in the city. Several food products were withdrawn from the market due to issues such as excessive pesticide residues, unauthorized additives, undeclared allergens, and the presence of pathogenic bacteria or viruses.
The findings underscore the ongoing challenges in food safety and the importance of continuous vigilance and improvement in food handling practices to protect public health in Helsinki.