Infectious Diseases 2019

Infectious Diseases 2019

The BIJ: At least 100 cases of salmonella poisoning from British eggs

Source: BIJ 22 September, 2019

At least 100 cases of people have been poisoned after eating British eggs contaminated with one of the most dangerous forms of salmonella, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism can reveal, despite government assurances that the risk had been virtually eliminated.
There have been at least 100 cases recorded in the past three years, and 45 since January, in a major outbreak that health officials have traced back to contaminated eggs and poultry farms.
Despite outbreaks of this strain occurring for more than three years, the government has issued no public warnings about the safety of hens’ eggs. In 2017, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) told the public that it was safe for vulnerable people, including pregnant women, the elderly and children, to eat raw, runny or soft-boiled eggs. At the time the head of the FSA said: “The risk of salmonella is now so low you needn’t worry.” Internal records obtained by the Bureau show that 25 egg-laying poultry flocks in the UK have tested positive for salmonella this year. Seven were contaminated with the most serious strains of the bacteria, including Salmonella enteritidis, the strain behind this major outbreak. Two egg-packing factories - one of which supplies leading supermarkets - have also been contaminated.
Eggs from the infected flocks were kept from sale and either sent for processing to kill the bacteria or disposed of, while the birds were culled.
However, contaminated eggs still reached the public, with Public Health England (PHE) confirming 45 people had been poisoned since January. The exact route to the public is unclear. PHE told the Bureau it was not aware of any deaths.
An egg business that supplies major supermarkets is among those contaminated by the bug. One of Fridays Ltd’s egg-packing factories was temporarily closed this year to deal with salmonella, which has also been found on three farms that supply the business. The company, which produces 10m eggs a week, confirmed it had removed the farms from its supply chain and disinfected the factory.
Fridays said in a statement: “Like all responsible UK egg farmers and egg packers, we carry out regular testing of our firms and those of our suppliers … Salmonella occurs naturally in the environment. However, with regular precautionary testing, vaccination of hens and rigorous control procedures, its prevalence in farming can be minimised.” Public Health England told the Bureau that it had been investigating this strain of salmonella for three years. The Bureau has established that in 2018, 28 flocks tested positive for salmonella, four of them with dangerous strains.
This means that PHE knew of poisoning cases even as the FSA declared that almost all eggs produced in the UK were free of salmonella, and that it was safe once again for those vulnerable to infection to eat raw eggs.
In October 2017 the FSA said that the presence of salmonella in eggs had been “dramatically reduced” and that British Lion eggs - which make up about 90% of UK egg production - were safe to eat.
The FSA confirmed the outbreak to the Bureau.