Food Law News - UK - 2004
FSA Press Release, 14 October 2004
EGGS - Agencies step up action on salmonella outbreaks linked to Spanish eggs
The Health Protection Agency (HPA) and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) are
stepping up action to protect the public's health following continued outbreaks
of Salmonella enteritidis (other than phage type 4) since 2002, many of which
have been linked to Spanish eggs used in the catering trade.
The HPA has investigated over 80 outbreaks of these strains of salmonella in
the past two years, with at least 2,000 confirmed cases, and our evidence shows
that the use by the catering trade of Spanish eggs is a major source of this
A national outbreak control team, which includes the FSA, was convened by the
HPA to look at this problem, and recommended that various actions should be
taken, in the UK and in Europe, to prevent further people from becoming ill,
this includes alerting caterers to the risks to health that are clearly associated
with some non-UK eggs.
Dr Barry Evans, who chaired the outbreak control team said: 'The continuing
outbreaks of Salmonella enteritidis show that the problem of the contamination
of Spanish eggs has not been resolved and we are concerned that so many people
have now been affected. Salmonella food poisoning is an unpleasant illness and,
although most people make a full recovery, it can be extremely serious for vulnerable
groups such as the elderly, babies or people in poor health.'
Dr Judith Hilton, Head of Microbiological Safety at the FSA, added: 'Salmonella
in UK eggs has been steadily decreasing but there is still a particular problem
with some Spanish eggs. Since January 2004, these eggs have had to be marked
'ES' so both caterers and consumers know that they will need to take extra care
if they use these eggs, or they may choose to use UK eggs, marked 'UK', which
we know have far fewer problems. We are also pressing the European Commission
to take further action to tackle this problem.'
FSA advice to caterers and egg importers and wholesalers is:
- Importers and wholesalers of Spanish eggs should ensure that the eggs are
- Caterers should use pasteurised egg in raw or lightly cooked products.
- All products made with Spanish eggs should be thoroughly cooked.
- 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.
The vast majority of eggs imported from Spain are used in the catering trade
but it is not possible to rule out finding them on sale in some shops.
FSA advice to consumers is:
- Most eggs that people buy are UK eggs and they are very low risk.
- If you do buy Spanish eggs you should ensure that they are thoroughly cooked
- Spanish eggs should not be used in any raw or lightly cooked foods.
- It would be sensible to avoid using Spanish eggs if cooking or catering
for vulnerable people such as the elderly, very young or sick.
- Good food hygiene practices in the home continue to be important for everyone
cooking and handling raw eggs, wherever they come from.
The following additional notes are provided:
- The HPA has confirmed by laboratory testing 2,000 cases of salmonella linked
to these outbreaks since 2002. As these are only the cases where laboratory
samples are sent for testing, it is estimated that this could represent around
6,000 cases in the community.
- Following large epidemics of Salmonella enteritidis in the late 1980s (mainly
due to phage type 4, the most common type), the number of cases of Salmonella
Enteritidis infection in England and Wales decreased significantly from 16,047
cases in 1998 to 9757 cases in 2003 mainly due to industry control programmes,
including the vaccination of chicken flocks. Since 2000, the number of laboratory
confirmed cases of phage types 1 and 14b in England and Wales has increased
from 1095 in 2000 to 2889 in 2003. Provisional data for the first six months
of 2004 show further increases in infection with these phage types.
- Non-UK eggs make up a relatively small, but steadily growing, proportion
of the UK egg market; Spain, in particular, has increased its egg exports
in recent years, so that it is now the largest single exporter of eggs to
England and Wales.
- An FSA survey of salmonella contamination of UK-produced shell eggs on retail
sale was carried out in 2003. The overall UK finding was that 0.34% of samples
were contaminated with salmonella. This is a threefold reduction in the level
of salmonella contamination since 1995/96 and this is likely to reflect the
measures introduced by the UK egg industry to control salmonella. There was
no statistically significant difference between the prevalence of salmonella
contamination in samples from different egg production types or between non-Lion
code eggs and Lion code eggs.
- In an HPA survey of all UK eggs used in catering, only 0.3% were contaminated
with salmonella. In a recent two-year investigation of food premises and suppliers
implicated in outbreaks of salmonella, the HPA tested 12,000 samples of eggs
and found that 5.6% of Spanish egg samples were contaminated with salmonella,
compared to 1.1% of non-Lion Quality UK egg samples testing positive for salmonella.
No UK Lion Quality egg samples were found to contain salmonella.
- Laying hens that are infected with Salmonella Enteritidis can transmit the
bacteria to both the shell and the contents of eggs. These bacteria can survive
in lightly or improperly cooked eggs, from where the bacteria can be transferred
to humans, causing disease. For most people, Salmonella Enteritidis, like
other salmonellae, causes an unpleasant rather than a dangerous illness; symptoms
include diarrhoea, vomiting, and a fever.
- Since January 2004 all eggs produced in the European Union have to be stamped
with a mark to enable the producer to be identified and identifying the country
of origin and production type. For example, Spanish eggs are marked with 'ES';
while eggs from the United Kingdom are marked with 'UK'.
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