EU Turkey Flocks and Salmonella Risk
Food Safety Update
August 24, 2008
A recent EU-wide report detected Salmonellalevels in almost one third (30.7%) of EU turkey flocks reared for human consumption and in 13.6% of turkey flocks kept for breeding purposes, according to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). The study, conducted between October 2006 and September 2007, examined feces samples from 539 breeding turkey flocks and 3,769 fattening turkey flocks (flocks used for human consumption) from across the EU and Norway.
The second most reported cause of food-borne diseases in humans in Europe,Salmonella affected 160,649 people in 2006 – approximately 35 people per every 100,000. Salmonella risks often result from under cooking of meat and eggs or contamination of other foods with raw eggs and raw meat.
Salmonella Enteritidis and Salmonella Typhimurium – the two types of Salmonellaresponsible for the majority of Salmonella-related food infections in humans – were detected in 3.8% of turkey flocks reared for human consumption.
Across the Member States, Salmonella levels varied greatly. More than half of the countries reported no cases of Salmonella in breeding flocks, while others found levels as high as 82.9%. In flocks reared for human consumption, three Member States reported no cases at all. Others detected levels as high as 78.5%.
In terms of turkey distribution across the EU, France accounted for 56% of the breeding population, followed by Italy at 11.9% and the UK at 10.1%. France accounted for 18.7% of the consumable turkeys, followed by Germany at 16.4%, Italy at 16%, Spain at 14.7% and Poland at 13.5%. About one in seven breeding turkey flocks raised in the EU over the 2006-2007 survey period tested positive forSalmonella.
The connection between breeding flocks and those reared for human consumption is generally thought to be important. Salmonella-infected chicks from breeding flocks can spread the bacteria to turkeys being reared for consumption via contaminated hatching eggs.
EFSA says that the risk of Salmonella transfer from live birds to food could be modified in the transport, slaughter, cutting and processing steps. De-skinning operations, for example, and processes such as freezing, might be useful in reducing the incidence of bacteria. Current slaughter technology, on the other hand, could lead to the horizontal transfer of Salmonella from infected birds to the carcasses of bacteria-free flocks.
“Good hygiene practices during slaughter and subsequent processing is the main measure foreseen under EU legislation,” says an EFSA spokesperson. “Processing hygiene criteria for Salmonella from poultry carcasses have been set in EU legislation.”
The survey carried out tests on droppings from live birds on farms and not on turkey meat itself. Therefore, the results cannot be directly applied to turkey meat. Turkey meat should be cooked before consumption and consumers should be advised about the safe handling of the meat. EFSA and other organizations such as the WHO support longstanding food safety advice that poultry meat and eggs be properly cooked in order to protect consumers from possible risks of food poisoning.
Generally, thorough cooking and kitchen hygiene can help prevent or reduce the risk of contracting Salmonella infections, whose symptoms range from mild to severe gastroenteritis and occasionally death, but stopping the bacteria at the source is the EU’s long-term goal.
“The survey on Salmonella in turkeys was carried out in order to provide harmonized and comparable information for the European Commission and European Union Member States to assist in the setting of Salmonella reduction targets for turkey flocks,” adds an EFSA spokesperson.