FSA surveys non-UK eggs for salmonella
Wednesday 15 November 2006
The Food Standards Agency today publishes its findings of a survey of salmonella contamination in eggs produced outside the UK and on retail sale in England.
In the eggs sampled, salmonella was estimated to be in around one box in every 30 (3.3%).
A total of 1,744 boxes of six eggs or more were sampled. Salmonella contamination on the egg shell was found in 157 box samples. When import data is taken into account, this leads to the estimate of 3.3%. Of these, 10 also contained salmonella inside the egg. Salmonella enteritidis was the most common type of salmonella found.
The eggs collected came from eight different countries across Europe, with two-thirds of the eggs collected (66.3%) originating in Spain. Spain also had the highest number of contaminated eggs - with an estimated one in every eight boxes.
While most of the salmonella was found in eggs from Spain, most of the contaminated eggs came from just three farms. The only other country with sufficient numbers of contaminated samples to estimate prevalence was France, with a contamination rate of around one in 170 boxes.
The findings help provide an indication of where contamination is occurring, and how best to target interventions to reduce salmonella problems in the UK. Only around 10% of eggs in the UK are imported and most of these are used in the catering trade.
The Agency's findings are supported by a survey published this summer by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) of salmonella in layer flocks across Europe, in which Spain had amongst the highest prevalence on its farms.
Dr Andrew Wadge, Director of Food Safety at the FSA said: 'The vast majority of eggs we eat in the UK are salmonella-free. However, this survey shows that problems with salmonella in eggs have not gone away. The European Commission (EC) has taken a lead in setting targets for reducing salmonella in laying flocks and moving to requiring compulsory vaccination in countries with a high prevalence of contaminated flocks.
'In the UK vaccinating flocks against salmonella has been successful.'
The science behind the story
Following investigations of food poisoning outbreaks carried out by the Health Protection Agency in 2002-2004, the FSA took steps to protect consumers from salmonella in Spanish eggs. The Agency issued specific guidance to caterers on the safe handling and cooking of eggs, advising that all eggs from Spain should be heat-treated before use, because this kills disease-carrying bacteria, such as salmonella. This action has been effective, with a sharp fall in the number of outbreaks of salmonella associated with Spanish eggs.
Although the chances of eggs being contaminated are now very low, eggs cannot be guaranteed to be free of salmonella whatever the source or type. This is particularly important for vulnerable groups of people, such as the elderly, babies and toddlers, pregnant women, and people who are already unwell and more vulnerable to infection. These groups should continue to ensure that the eggs they eat are thoroughly cooked to minimise the risk of food poisoning. Cooking eggs until the white and yolk are solid kills any bacteria.