Dutch authorities have stressed the need to keep a focus on Salmonella despite restrictions because of avian flu outbreaks.

Avian influenza, also known as bird flu, is causing a lot of concern among companies and within the poultry farming sector.

Efforts are being made to prevent further infections by taking steps such as limiting visitors in the yard and in stables as much as possible.

Need to maintain Salmonella control
However, the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) said programs to protect the health of animals and people must continue and asked poultry companies to cooperate with official sampling for Salmonella.

The agency added it was important that monitoring of Salmonella carries on during bird flu outbreaks, as it is a requirement to continue to receive European subsidies for the Salmonella control program.

As part of this program, mandatory sampling is regularly carried out at poultry farms. It helps to prevent products contaminated with Salmonella from entering the food chain. The company C-Mark B.V. carries out the sampling on behalf of NVWA.

The 2021 to 2022 highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) epidemic season is the largest ever in Europe, according to data from the EFSA, ECDC and EU reference laboratory.

Bird-to-human transmission of avian flu is very rare, however, people should not touch sick or dead birds. The risk to the public is low but slightly higher in those with occupations involving direct exposure to infected birds.

Questions to EU on Salmonella retesting
Meanwhile, Dutch officials have asked the European Court of Justice to clarify the rules around Salmonella retests at poultry companies.

The Trade and Industry Appeals Tribunal is handling a case involving potential findings of Salmonella enteritidis at a poultry farm in 2020.

In 2020, rules on testing and routine control samples in the Netherlands were changed, under pressure from the European Commission, which threatened to stop co-financing the Dutch Salmonella program. The change means animals can be removed and slaughtered if initial test results show they are infected with certain types of Salmonella.

The previous approach of a verification test aimed to prevent wrongly identified contaminated flocks from being unnecessarily slaughtered. A retest can still be done in exceptional cases when there is doubt about the accuracy of the first result.

Dutch figures show that eight companies with 16 houses were infected with Salmonella in 2019. Of these 16, seven turned out to be negative after a retest by the NVWA. From 2015 to 2019, there were 44 samples from 25 different farms, that were initially positive. These 44 routine monitoring positive samplings were retested by NVWA and 21 were negative, according to a study in the journal Microorganisms.

The EU Court of Justice was asked to give a preliminary ruling on three questions including the authority’s decision to repeat a test if it believes the first result is not correct, which factors are relevant in deciding if it is an exceptional case, and how long does a food company have to take samples and submit results before the authority takes irreversible action based on initial contamination results.  

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