The Queensland egg industry has strengthened its biosecurity, hygiene and product quality processes to minimize the risk of Salmonella Enteritidis.

Safe Food Production Queensland (Safe Food) and the Queensland, Australia, egg industry developed a new Salmonella Enteritidis Prevention Plan (SEPP). Safe Food regulates the primary production and processing of meat, eggs, dairy, seafood and horticulture in Queensland, Australia.

The plan is designed to improve hygiene and biosecurity controls on-farm and within egg grading and handling environments, to protect against Salmonella Enteritidis and ensure long-term sustainability of the industry.

Salmonella and egg outbreak
In 2018 and 2019, Salmonella Enteritidis was detected on several farms in New South Wales (NSW) and one in Victoria. The strain isolated during investigations was found to be rare and not common in Australia. Checks by the NSW Department of Primary Industries on infected farms identified spread was influenced by a lack of hygiene controls and biosecurity provisions.

Confirmed cases were mostly found in NSW but also in Victoria, Queensland and Tasmania. There were at least 235 infections linked to the outbreak and onset of illness ranged from May 2018 to May 2019.

Salmonella Enteritidis infects the contents of an egg before being laid. Eggs from an infected flock may be visibly clean and free from cracks, but still present a health risk, especially if they are not cooked thoroughly before consuming.

Mark Furner, Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries, said the move followed outbreaks in southern states linked to farmed eggs.

“A new Salmonella Enteritidis Prevention Plan will soon be in place, which will improve hygiene and biosecurity controls on-farm and within egg grading and handling workspaces. Accredited egg businesses in Queensland already have high standards for tracing eggs through the supply chain, and managing any cracked and dirty eggs, but the new SEPP puts greater emphasis on addressing specific risks associated with Salmonella Enteritidis.”

SOPs for producers to follow
Following detection of Salmonella Enteritidis in NSW, Safe Food did a survey of accredited egg businesses in Queensland to see what biosecurity and hygiene provisions were in place to prevent its spread. Results indicated greater emphasis was required to address specific risks associated with the Salmonella strain.

An industry-led working group developed the SEPP, with small and large egg businesses, industry bodies and representatives from Queensland government. From the SEPP, several new standard operating procedures (SOPs) were established, which all accredited egg producers and processors must incorporate into food safety programs in 2020.

Safe Food will be checking compliance by egg producers to ensure they are following the new standard operating procedures from the start of next year.

John Coward, director of Egg Farmers of Australia and CEO of Queensland United Egg Producers, said the SEPP was an industry-led initiative.

“The Australian egg industry has already witnessed the dramatic effects of Salmonella Enteritidis, with infected farms in NSW and Victoria placed under strict quarantine orders and infected flocks destroyed. Queensland has been quick to respond, developing a set of new standard operating procedures for all egg businesses to follow to enhance biosecurity and ensure long-term sustainability of our industry.”

The CEO of Egg Farmers of Australia, Melinda Hashimoto, said the plan would strengthen the Queensland egg industry and set the foundation for a national approach.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)