A low sampling frequency and Salmonella detection rate by food companies in Greece means contribution to a national control program is “practically ineffective,” according to DG Sante.

The unit responsible for the European Commission’s policies on health and food safety led an audit in Greece last year to evaluate Salmonella National Control Programs (SNCPs) in different poultry including breeders, laying hens, broilers and turkeys.

The audit, in September 2019, included visits to two breeding and laying hen holdings and two hatcheries. A turkey fattener and broiler holding and the national reference laboratory and a private lab were also on the agenda.

An assessment in 2012 found the SNCPs were correctly implemented and covered relevant poultry. Deficiencies included some lack of effective official controls at farm level to detect food business operator (FBO) deficiencies on sampling frequency and with biosecurity rules; FBO frequency of own-check sampling in laying hen flocks and lack of SNCP implementation for some turkey flocks.

Salmonella found less often by companies
Greece has good results with the SNCPs as only breeding flocks are exceeding the EU prevalence target. However, the 2019 audit found FBO’s sample with lower frequency than required for almost all poultry without enough action from authorities. Also, the lower rate of Salmonella detection in company versus official sampling means the FBO contribution to the SNCPs is practically ineffective, according to the report.

In breeding hens, from more than 1,000 official samples, 12 were positive but from slightly more FBO samples it was only two. In laying hens, from slightly under 2,000 official samples, 14 were positive while none of more than 2,000 FBO samples were positive.

Official controls did not detect some food company non-compliances such as sampling frequencies and documentation and did not always take adequate actions to ensure correction of detected deficiencies, according to DG Sante.

During June 2017 to June 2019, there were no notifications linked to Salmonella in table eggs and egg products, poultry meat and meat products of Greek origin in the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF).

Greece had one of the lowest reporting rates of human Salmonella infections for EU countries in 2017, according to the European Food Safety Authority and European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.

The audit team reviewed nine cases where a sample tested positive for Salmonella enteritidis or typhimurium. Epidemiological investigations by veterinary services and food firms have frequently not managed to identify source of infection.

Issues with confirmatory and frequency of sampling
Greek authorities said there are 1,066 broiler holdings, 608 for laying hens, 44 for fattening turkeys and seven turkey breeders.

Authorities are developing a system for online submission of information related to official labs’ SNCP testing. A pilot phase was planned to start in mid-October 2019 and cover most users. Subsequent to training needs and adjustments, a final rollout is planned for mid-February this year.

National annual data shows FBOs of breeding and laying hen populations are not respecting minimum required sampling frequencies, while FBOs of broilers and turkey breeders and fatteners did not hit the frequency in two of the last three years from 2016 to 2018. For laying hens this shortcoming was found in the 2012 audit and actions implemented are no longer effective.

DG Sante found FBO sampling in broilers and turkey fatteners is sometimes done too early to respect the maximum interval for slaughter, so flocks infected at later stages of production would not be detected. A fact the authorities had failed to notice.

Auditors said performing confirmatory sampling when the FBO requests it for breeding and laying hen flocks without good reason to suspect false positives is not in line with requirement for it to be done only in exceptional cases.

“This can have negative impacts when Salmonella is present but not detected with the confirmatory test, resulting in a continued contamination and mistakenly reporting lower Salmonella prevalence. Those negative impacts are only partially reduced by the lower number of tests, in the last two years, which were initially positive but became negative after confirmatory testing,” the report says.

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