The United Kingdom has banned imports of feeder rodents from Lithuania because of a Salmonella outbreak in humans.

An ongoing outbreak of Salmonella Enteritidis has been linked to mice imported from Lithuania used as animal feed, particularly for reptiles.

UK officials said the risk posed to public health has led to the action, which came into force this past week.

More than 900 cases of Salmonella have been reported since April 2014 linked to frozen mice used to feed animals including snakes and birds. At least 139 Salmonella Enteritidis infections were recorded in 2021 with children particularly affected.

Frozen rodents were imported from Lithuania and distributed in the UK by Monkfield Nutrition. A recall was issued in December 2021 for all batches of frozen feeder mice products for reptiles.

Escalation of action
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in England; the Minister for Rural Affairs and North Wales, and Trefnydd in Wales; Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland; and Food Standards Scotland were involved in the import decision.

“[We have] reasonable grounds for suspecting the existence of Salmonella in Lithuania, such that certain animals and products originating in or dispatched from Lithuania are liable to pose a risk to human or animal health,” said the agencies.

Measures will be reviewed in the future to account for any actions taken by Lithuanian authorities to control the risk from imports of feeder rodents in the long term.

A letter had been sent by the Food Standards Agency and the chief veterinary officer to the European Commission requesting steps to tackle contamination at source. It mentioned possible future action could include a ban on imports.

Tina Potter, head of incidents at the FSA, said: “As we have continued to see a rise in the number of cases of Salmonella Enteritidis linked to feeder rodents imported from Lithuania over the past number of months, we welcome Defra’s move to ban these products from being imported and sold across the UK.

“Even though this ban has been introduced to ensure public health is protected, we cannot emphasise enough the importance of good hygiene practice when handling raw or frozen pet food, as well as the reptile itself.”

Norway has 13 related human Salmonella infections over three years also linked to the feeding and handling of snakes. A 2016 European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) assessment revealed Denmark had three linked Salmonella cases sampled in 2014, 2015 and 2016. Netherlands was also considered to be affected. The Lithuanian rodent farm distributed frozen feeder mice in Germany and Poland.

People should wash their hands thoroughly with warm soapy water after handling and feeding frozen mice to their pets and touching reptiles to reduce the risk of getting a Salmonella infection. Raw pet feed should be stored away from food especially ready to eat foods. Care should be taken when defrosting to avoid cross contamination and surfaces should be cleaned and disinfected.

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