UK eggs amongst the safest in the world
Figures released by Defra and the European Union show that the United Kingdom has done much better than other leading European egg producing countries in eradicating salmonella from its laying flocks.
The figures, which were released simultaneously by the UK Government, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention, are the result of the 2008 National Control Programme. They show that just one per cent of flocks in the UK tested positive for salmonella enteritidis and salmonella typhimurium. The figure for all serovars was 1.25 per cent. The comparative figures for Spain were 15.6 per cent and 34.9 per cent. In Poland the equivalent percentages were 10.6 and 12.5, in France 3.2 and 6.1, in Germany 2.7 and 3.5 and in the Netherlands 2.6 and 2.6.
Latvia, Luxembourg and Slovenia all failed to meet reduction targets set for them by the European Union. Latvia’s figures were 14.5 and 20.3, Luxembourg’s were 14.3 and 14.3 and Slovenia’s 10.5 and 8.3. Spain’s figures were the worst, followed by Greece with 14.3 and 31.3. Italy’s figures were 6.8 and 20.5.
According to Defra, the figures for the United Kingdom included flocks on premises where there were less than 1000 birds present – those not eligible for official sampling but still tested under the requirements of the NCP.
The British Egg Industry Council said the figures reinforced the status of the UK egg industry as the safest in the world. It said the figures showed that 99 per cent of UK egg laying flocks were shown to be clear of salmonella in tests conducted during 2008. The results were the best among the EU’s major egg producing countries.
“The UK remains well ahead of the major European egg producing countries in terms of egg safety, so the clear message is ’Look for the Lion’,” said Andrew Parker, chairman of the BEIC. “We have already effectively eliminated salmonella from British Lion eggs, and the results of these environmental samples are a great credit to the UK egg industry, reflecting its huge investment in salmonella control.”
Under the National Control Programme, producers are required to take two pairs of boot swabs (from free range and barn flocks) or two composite faeces samples (from caged flocks) from each adult flock producing eggs for human consumption starting at 22 – 26 weeks of age and then at 15-week intervals. In addition, samples are taken during the rearing phase from day-old chicks and two weeks before movement to the laying accommodation. The samples for day-old chicks are chick box liners or hatcher tray liners and chicks found dead on arrival. The samples taken during rear two weeks before the birds move to the laying accommodation consist of two pairs of boot swabs (or equivalent faeces samples).
In addition to the producer samples, routine annual official samples (two pairs of boot swabs or two composite faeces samples and a dust sample) are required to be collected once each year from one adult flock from each holding with more than 1,000 birds. Also, if a flock is suspected of being infected with salmonella enteritidis or salmonella typhimurium official samples consisting of two pairs of boot swabs or two composite faeces samples, and a dust sample per flock on all other flocks on the holding are taken. Following depopulation of a salmonella enteritidis or salmonella typhimurium positive flock, another official (post-restocking) sample, which consists of two pairs of boot swabs or two composite faecal samples, and a dust sample, is required in the follow-on flock at 22 – 26 weeks of age.
Where salmonella enteritidis or salmonella typhimurium is confirmed, eggs from positive flocks can no longer be sold direct as table eggs for human consumption. They must be heat treated.
The Defra figures show that a total of 81 flocks were positive (67 adult, 14 in-rear) for salmonella. Of the 67 adult positive flocks, 49 were positive for salmonella enteritidis, four for salmonella typhimurium, one for salmonella virchow, 15 for non-SOPHS serovars. A total of 51 were positive for salmonella enteritidis and/or salmonella typhimurium (two flocks on the same holding were positive for salmonella enteritidis and salmonella typhimurium). These were included in both the salmonella enteritidis count and the salmonella typhimurium count, but only counted once for the overall annual figure used in the assessment of achievement of the community target.
The UK was set a target of a 10 per cent year-on-year reduction and has met this with ease. Targets for the various EU states were set following a similar report in 2006, which showed that the UK was already the best country in Europe with a large national laying flock. Salmonellas of public health significance were found on just eight per cent of flock holdings.
Those countries found to have higher levels of salmonella in the 2006 report were set higher percentage reduction targets, and it is likely to take a number of years before their levels of salmonella reduce to those in the UK.
More than 85 per cent of UK eggs are produced under the British Lion Quality scheme, which was introduced in 1998. UK egg producers have invested more than £40 million in the scheme, which stipulates vaccination of hens against salmonella in addition to a range of other food safety measures.
Human salmonella cases in the UK have reduced dramatically since the introduction of the British Lion Quality scheme, although there have been outbreaks among humans in the UK directly linked with imported eggs.
“We believe that all eggs imported into the UK should be produced to the standards required by the British Lion scheme, including vaccination of hens against salmonella, a best-before date on every egg and full traceability of eggs, hens and feed,” said Andrew Parker.