Food Law News - UK - 2002

FSA Press Release (R507-28), 29 October 2002

FOOD SAFETY - Agency re-emphasises advice on use and handling of all eggs and issues guidance on use of Spanish eggs

Further investigations into a number of outbreaks of salmonella in England and Wales have led the Food Standards Agency to issue guidance to importers and wholesalers of Spanish eggs advising that these eggs are heat treated. The Agency is also reiterating its advice that all eggs - UK, Spanish or other imported eggs - should be properly handled and used.

Over 350 people have been taken ill in six outbreaks of salmonella poisoning since August. Two people have died this month as a result of the outbreak in the North West of England.
The emerging evidence of a Spanish egg link in many of the cases, has led the Agency to issue guidance to importers and wholesalers of Spanish eggs that they should ensure that these eggs are heat-treated. Heat-treatment kills bugs such as salmonella in eggs. The Agency has also raised the issue with the European Commission and directly with the Spanish food safety authorities. However, not all cases are linked with imported eggs.

There is also some emerging evidence that suggests that not all food businesses are following the Agency's advice on the proper handling and use of eggs. Examples of poor practices identified so far include raw eggs being used in uncooked products such as icing and desserts; and poor practice around basic food hygiene.

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

'More evidence is emerging about the sources of these outbreaks that has convinced us of the need to advise that Spanish eggs coming into the UK are heat-treated to kill off the salmonella bug. However we are not complacent about UK or other imported eggs. At least one outbreak is being linked with UK eggs.

'It has long been known that some eggs may be contaminated with the salmonella food poisoning bug and they must be handled and used properly. It is disturbing that in several of these cases it is emerging that the Agency's advice is not being listened to. Good practice in the kitchen, at home or in a food business, is vital. People need to protect themselves and others by sticking to our advice.'

In a number of cases around the country food poisoning has come from a particular strain of Salmonella, Enteritidis PT 14b. Some Spanish eggs have tested positive for this strain, as well as others strains of salmonella. These other strains of salmonella have in turn been the cause of other outbreaks of food poisoning. Most of the outbreaks are suspected of being egg related. As well as Spanish eggs, other imported and UK eggs are also under investigation.

Agency advice on the use and handling of eggs is:

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 cross-contamination. People could be put at risk if this advice is not followed.

Update on details of recent and current salmonella cases under investigation:

Current Salmonella Outbreaks

1. National outbreak of Salmonella Enteritidis PT14b

Total Number of Confirmed Cases: 240 cases, 2 deaths

Four clusters
Cluster one: North West/Cheshire
Cluster two: Basingstoke
Cluster three: Ormskirk
Cluster four: Southwark, London

2. Outbreak of S. Enteritidis PT1
Location: Liverpool
Cases: 48 confirmed cases, 85 possible

3. Outbreak of S. Enteritidis PT6a
Location: London hospitals
Cases: 19 cases

4. Outbreak of S. Enteritidis PT4
Location: Suffolk
Cases: 28 confirmed cases

5. Outbreak of S. Enteritidis PT4
Location: Colchester
Cases: 14 confirmed, 5 possible

6. Outbreak of S. Enteritidis PT21
Location: Caernarfon, Wales
Cases: 23 confirmed, 17 possible


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