Almost 40 people are part of a Salmonella outbreak traced to eggs from the United Kingdom.

A spokesman for Public Health England told Food Safety News that it does not hold information on the date of onset of illness for all the patients.

“There have been 38 reported cases linked to this incident through analysis of whole genome sequencing data. Cases range in age from 6 months to 85 years; 19 are female and 19 are male. We are aware of two cases having been hospitalized,” the spokesman said.

A notification on the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) portal from early July shows that eggs contaminated with Salmonella Enteritidis were subjected to physical or chemical treatment in the Netherlands, which was a commercial decision by the producer.

Lion Code flocks involved again
The Food Standards Agency (FSA), Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) and PHE were involved in the outbreak investigation, which began in May. Analysis of whole genome sequencing data identified the same strain of Salmonella from farm samples and in infected people.

British Lion Brand eggs account for about 90 percent of UK egg production. The British Lion mark on eggs means that they have been laid by hens vaccinated against Salmonella. All eggs with this mark have been produced under requirements of the British Lion Code of Practice.

Vaccination to prevent Salmonella in healthy animals is only partially protective. Control of infection also depends on careful administration of the vaccine via drinking water and good farm management to minimize risk of contamination.

Eggs from infected farms are restricted until they are sent for processing or disposed of as animal by-products. They cannot be sold as fresh table eggs. Farmers voluntarily culled the birds on site or sent them for slaughter following testing as arranged with the FSA.

“On May, 20, 2020, eggs from Lion Code flocks which had been identified as possibly containing Salmonella were exported to the Netherlands for pasteurization. This process destroys the Salmonella and avoids destruction of all eggs,” said a Food Standards Agency spokesperson.

“Control measures have been taken at the farm affected to ensure that Salmonella is no longer present. We informed both the European Commission and Dutch authorities about this situation.”

Farms are fully cleansed and disinfected by the owner before they are allowed to re-stock. Environmental samples are taken after these measures to check for Salmonella. The re-stocked poultry flocks are then sampled by APHA in line with National Control Plan requirements.

The FSA spokesman said an outbreak of Salmonella was identified in the East of England as a result of reports of illness following retail sales.

“Once the link was made to particular flocks, restrictions were put in place but eggs at retail had already been sold.  Those still at the packing center and farm were quarantined and then sent to the Netherlands for pasteurization. We issued a RASFF at this time to make the European Commission and relevant Netherlands authorities aware about the distribution of potentially contaminated eggs for processing – as is normal practice,” he said.

“Following consultation with local authority, PHE and APHA colleagues, we took the decision not to issue a recall due to the small number of eggs estimated to be potentially contaminated, the low level of risk to healthy consumers and the very much larger number of unaffected eggs likely to be implicated, a recall was considered to be disproportionate.”

Other egg outbreaks
The outbreak is not related to reports of Salmonella poisoning linked to British eggs revealed last year by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism and The Guardian.

Their investigation found there were at least 100 cases recorded in the past three years, and 45 since January 2019 traced to contaminated poultry farms.

Following this incident, the British Egg Industry Council said it had introduced additional, enhanced testing and auditing to minimize the risk of it happening again.

The U.K. also has the most confirmed and probable cases as part of a Salmonella outbreak linked to Polish eggs that has been ongoing since 2012 with 688, according to figures from January this year as reported by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

Belgium, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Sweden and the U.K. have recorded 1,656 infections since 2012.

The public are advised to follow good hygiene and egg handling practices such as storing eggs in the fridge until use, using them by the best before date, cleaning surfaces and kitchen equipment effectively after use, and washing hands thoroughly before and after handling them.

About Salmonella infections
Food contaminated with Salmonella bacteria does not usually look, smell, or taste spoiled. Anyone can become sick with a Salmonella infection. Infants, children, seniors, and people with weakened immune systems are at higher risk of serious illness because their immune systems are fragile, according to the CDC.

Anyone who has eaten eggs and developed symptoms of Salmonella infection should seek medical attention. Sick people should tell their doctors about the possible exposure to Salmonella bacteria because special tests are necessary to diagnose salmonellosis. Salmonella infection symptoms can mimic other illnesses, frequently leading to misdiagnosis.

Symptoms of Salmonella infection can include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever within 12 to 72 hours after eating contaminated food. Otherwise, healthy adults are usually sick for four to seven days. In some cases, however, diarrhea may be so severe that patients require hospitalization.

Older adults, children, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems, such as cancer patients, are more likely to develop a severe illness and serious, sometimes life-threatening conditions.

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