Authorities in England and Scotland are investigating almost 300 cases and one death of Salmonella Typhimurium linked to lamb and mutton.

An increase in cases of this particular strain type was identified in July 2017. Prior to this only two cases of the strain had been detected in England. One death related to the outbreak was recorded last year in which Salmonella was thought to be a contributory factor.

Between July and November last year, the first increase was observed with 95 cases in England, Scotland and Wales. Control measures were implemented which resulted in a decline in cases and numbers were at low levels from December 2017 to June 2018 with 23 infections reported. These measures included restricting movement of animals to reduce the transfer of infection and stringent and enhanced hygiene where affected sheep were slaughtered.

However, since June this year, a further 165 cases have been reported up to Oct. 19, which led control measures to be activated again but they have not achieved the same decline in people getting sick as in 2017. It is not known why action was not as effective second time around. Infections have not been traced to a specific farm or slaughterhouse.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA), Food Standards Scotland (FSS), Public Health England (PHE) and Health Protection Scotland (HPS) are now reminding the public how to cook and handle raw meat.

Nick Phin, deputy director, National Infection Service at PHE, said the likely cause of the increase is meat or cross-contamination with meat from affected sheep.

The agencies advised people to avoid contaminating other food in the kitchen by storing raw meat separately in the fridge and using different chopping boards and knives, and ensuring that meat such as diced and minced lamb, is cooked properly.

Standard advice is to cook food until it has reached 70 degrees Celsius and stayed at that temperature for two minutes.

Ian McWatt, director of operations at FSS, said: “People can be infected with Salmonella Typhimurium in a number of ways such as not cooking their meat properly, not washing hands thoroughly after handling raw meat, or through cross-contamination with other food, surfaces, and utensils in the kitchen.”

Most people infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12-72 hours after being exposed to the bacteria. The illness usually lasts four to seven days.

Colin Sullivan, the chief operating officer at the FSA, said the advice is to purchase food as normal but to take care when storing, handling and cooking raw meat.

“We are advising care when preparing all meat, including lamb and mutton, to reduce the likelihood of becoming ill with Salmonella Typhimurium.”

Meat sector review

Meanwhile, the Boards of the FSA and FSS have endorsed recommendations made in a review of meat cutting plants and cold stores to improve the UK meat processing industry.

The review was launched in February this year after non-compliance issues were identified at some cutting plants during 2017 and early 2018. Recommendations will prioritize food safety and improve standards in the meat supply chain.

Heather Hancock, chair of the FSA, said it believes findings of the review, supported by the meat industry, will help restore and sustain public trust.

“Over the last two years, we have seen several food safety and authenticity incidents arise in meat cutting plants and cold stores. Events like these jeopardize public confidence in the safety and authenticity of meat processed in the UK. They led us to commission an in-depth review to identify how the operation and regulation of this sector could be improved,” she said.

Ross Finnie, FSS chair, said: “The safety of consumers is paramount to Food Standards Scotland and all of those who have contributed to the review, and this will continue into the implementation phase. This agreed approach will provide assurance that the meat industry and regulators in Scotland will work together to deliver the world class high standards expected.”

Alan Clarke, Quality Meat Scotland’s chief executive, said the review takes stock of the current arrangements across the meat sector and identifies how it can further improve.

“Quality Meat Scotland has been engaged with Food Standards Scotland throughout the review and is confident that the quality and reputation of Scotland’s acclaimed meat brands will be further underpinned through the implementation of the agreed recommendations.”

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