Responding to a Salmonella outbreak linked to eggs has been a learning experience for government and industry, according to a group owned by egg farmers. Australian Eggs, which works with the industry and Australian Government, said Salmonella Enteritidis is not endemic in the country.
The producer-owned company added government and industry have responded to a new and unique bacteria and novel scenarios from increased free range egg production.
On June 14, The Egg Basket recalled Country Fresh Eggs, Just Eggs, Chefs Choice Free Range and Chefs Choice Cage Free eggs due to potential Salmonella Enteritidis contamination.
Eggs were sold at The Egg Basket and Flemington Markets in New South Wales and have date markings: June 14, 20, 24 and 29 as well as July 5 and 9, 2019.
All sites connected
Eleven New South Wales (NSW) poultry facilities and a Victorian egg layer farm have detected Salmonella since late last year due to a targeted program of testing and surveillance. All sites have been quarantined and decontaminated. They are connected as people, eggs or equipment were moving between them.
It remains unclear how the strain arrived in the country and while Australian Eggs described the incident as “unfortunate,” the group said current focus was on minimizing the impact.
New South Wales Health reported the outbreak has affected at least 171 residents in the state since the strain was detected in May 2018. There are five patients in Victoria, three in Queensland and one in Tasmania. Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) is heading the response by regulators.
Rowan McMonnies, Australian Eggs’ managing director, said tracing and testing has been conducted by government authorities since late-2018.
“This process has ensured that when Salmonella Enteritidis has emerged it has been caught early and the public and broader industry were protected. All the contaminated sites have been detected through this process and they continue to be limited to a cluster of interconnected farms,” he said.
“Salmonella Enteritidis is a new and unique bacteria for us in Australia and responding to the threat has been a learning experience for both government and industry. Risks are driven by biosecurity practices and farm management and it is these issues that are the focus of our response.”
NSW DPI investigation
The NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) reported that Salmonella Enteritidis had not been detected in NSW poultry until recently but it is a type of Salmonella present in most international egg industries. It can be spread from property to property through movement of produce, equipment, feed, rodents, people and vehicles.
Steps taken to minimize consumer exposure included movement restrictions, farm depopulation, decontamination and improvements to biosecurity, consumer level and trade level recalls, product withdrawals, consumer advisories, and surveillance, according to DPI.
NSW DPI has increased surveillance and monitoring at poultry farms and biosecurity directions have been issued to some properties, including the quarantine of premises to stop movement of eggs to market.
McMonnies said discovery of Salmonella Enteritidis has hit egg farmers hard and many contaminated farms have been unable to recover from the loss of their flock and being unable to sell eggs.
“Having withstood a year of drought that doubled the cost of feed grain, egg farmers now face the cost of even higher biosecurity measures. Nonetheless, the egg industry remains committed to managing this new challenge to maintain the community’s confidence in eggs.”
Australian Eggs reported overall egg consumption remained strong across the year and is slightly higher than last year’s volume.
Seven companies have issued recalls since September 2018: The Egg Basket, Port Stephens Eggs, Steve’s Fresh Eggs, Synergy Produce Pty. Ltd., Bridgewater Poultry Eggs, Ash and Son Eggs, and Glendenning Farms.
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