Food Law News - UK - 2002

FSA Press Release (R491-28), 15 October 2002

HYGIENE - Salmonella outbreak leads Agency to issue hygiene alert - Food businesses advised to use properly cooked or pasteurised eggs

Two outbreaks of an unusual strain of salmonella (Enteritidis PT 14b) have led the Food Standards Agency to re-emphasise its advice to food businesses about only using properly cooked or pasteurised egg.

Over 150 people have been taken ill since early September in the South East and North West of England and one person in Cheshire died last weekend. The symptoms are diarrhoea, vomiting and fever.

The Agency is also stressing the need for good hygiene practice in the handling and use of ordinary eggs on the premises.

Efforts have been made to identify the source or sources of the outbreaks by local Environmental Health Officers and the Public Health Laboratory Service, centring on London and Cheshire. This work is still underway. A common thread in both outbreaks relates to the use and handling of ordinary eggs by a local food business in each of the outbreak areas.

It has long been known that some eggs may be contaminated with the salmonella food poisoning bug. It is also known that proper cooking of the egg will kill the bug.

The Agency recommends that food businesses should use pasteurised egg, rather than ordinary egg, in products that will not be cooked or only lightly cooked before eating, as pasteurisation kills potentially harmful bacteria such as salmonella. In kitchens and food preparation areas where ordinary eggs are being used, good food hygiene practices are important to avoid the risk of cross-contamination.

In Cheshire, a bakery was using ordinary eggs in products that were not cooked. The Agency has been advised that they have now stopped this practice. In a London patisserie, the strains of salmonella in environmental samples indicate the potential for cross-contamination. Both businesses supply products to a number of outlets in their region.

Dr Roger Skinner, Head of the Agency's Microbiological Safety Division, said:

'The sources of these outbreaks are not yet clear, but over 150 people have been taken ill and one person has died. It is possible that there is a link between these cases and the use or handling of eggs.

'Food businesses need to remember that they should use pasteurised egg in their raw or lightly cooked products, particularly if their products may be eaten by vulnerable groups such as the elderly or pregnant women. They could be putting people at risk if they do not follow that advice.

'Good practice in the handling and use of ordinary eggs helps avoid cross-contamination. It is also important to remember that the salmonella bug can be easily killed if eggs are properly cooked before use.'

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