South Korea reveals 58 international flights carrying foodborne pathogens, Incheon Airport tops the list

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Incheon Airport

29th November 2023 – (Seoul) In a report published on Monday (27th), South Korean media highlighted the findings of the country’s Disease Control and Prevention Agency regarding the presence of foodborne pathogens on international flights. Between 31st July and 14th November this year, a total of 493 international direct flights from the country’s five major airports underwent testing for cholera and ten types of intestinal bacteria. The results revealed that 58 flights, accounting for 11.8% of the total, tested positive for pathogens, with Incheon International Airport having the highest proportion.

The detected pathogens included 39 cases of toxigenic E. coli, making it the most prevalent, as well as 32 cases of enteropathogenic E. coli, 4 cases of Vibrio cholerae, 4 cases of Salmonella, 2 cases of bacterial dysentery, and 1 case of enterohemorrhagic E. coli. All these bacteria have the potential to cause food poisoning in humans. Among the flights tested, Incheon Airport had the highest proportion of flights carrying pathogens, with 49 out of 222 flights testing positive, representing a rate of 22.1%. Daegu Airport and Gimhae Airport had detection rates of approximately 3%, while Jeju Airport and Muan Airport had no flights testing positive for pathogens. The Disease Control and Prevention Agency has notified the relevant airlines of the flight results and requested thorough disinfection measures.

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of flights has significantly decreased. As a result, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency suspended airplane environmental health inspections from 2020 until 30th July this year. However, with the resumption of regular flight operations and a substantial increase in flight volumes, South Korea implemented in-flight quarantine measures on select flights starting from 31st July this year. The agency plans to expand the number of flights and the scope of inspections, including not only lavatories and armrests but also passenger seats, aisle floors, and overhead luggage compartments. Additionally, in response to public concerns about lice infestations, the agency is considering implementing bed bug inspections on airplanes, ships, and cargo.