Austria has verified hygiene and self-controls at sites handling and processing food of animal origin.

The review published by the Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety (AGES) looked at general and specific hygiene requirements at these high risk companies in 2019.

A total of 1,501 samples were taken from 175 companies as part of the campaign. Of these, 276 were of food and 1,225 were environmental samples. Of the food samples from across the country, six were non-compliant. That is down from eight positives from 294 samples in 2018.

In 2019, five of the 163 milk samples had issues, four because of E. coli and one because of coliform bacteria. One of the 80 meat samples contained Listeria but all 33 fish samples were compliant.

The 175 businesses sampled included 87 dairy firms, 61 meat companies and 27 fish plants.

In the environmental samples examined for Listeria, Listeria monocytogenes was detected 24 times and Listeria spp. in 57 samples.

Of the 173 firms tested for Listeria, it was found by environmental sampling in 48 companies. In four of the 48 establishments there were also indications of Listeria in the food samples taken in the same factory. In the 125 establishments where no Listeria was detected in environmental samples, three had issues because of Listeria in food samples taken at the site.

Frozen product safety
Meanwhile, a survey of almost 100 samples of frozen fruits, vegetables and herbs in Austria has found no bacteria or virus contamination.

The 95 samples were tested for germs such as norovirus, hepatitis, Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella, Campylobacter, STEC, Staphylococci and E. coli as a hygiene indicator organism, but none of them were detected.

Produce has been associated with foodborne illnesses, according to AGES. The agency gave the examples of outbreaks of hepatitis A linked to frozen berries and frozen corn that was behind Listeria infections in Europe since 2015.

AGES advised consumers to always sufficiently heat frozen vegetables that are not ready to eat to reduce the risk of infection.

Listeria in cheese
Another survey looked at the level of Listeria monocytogenes contamination in blue cheese, which is a soft cheese mainly made from pasteurized milk.

No Listeria monocytogenes or other Listeria species were detected in the 38 samples examined.

Ten samples were produced in Austria, eight in both Germany and Italy, seven in Denmark and two in France. This information was not known for three samples.

AGES said although no sample was positive in the testing, blue cheese remains a product at risk from Listeria and the authority advised pregnant women and people with weak immune systems to avoid it.

One of the first foodborne outbreaks of Listeria monocytogenes with 122 patients and 34 deaths described in Europe was in Switzerland from 1983 to 1987 and was caused by a soft cheese.

Examination of cheeses for Listeria monocytogenes has been routine since then, according to AGES, and repeatedly leads to product recalls and notifications to the European Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF).

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