The number of patients in a Salmonella outbreak in the United Kingdom has increased to more than 130.

It was previously reported that 81 people were sick in the UK as part of a multi-country Salmonella Mbandaka outbreak. As of early March, there are 132 UK cases, according to the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

Whole genome sequencing confirmed a microbiological link between ready-to-cook chicken breast manufactured in Ukraine, and cases in Finland, Estonia, and the UK. The chicken was supplied to the UK from Ukraine via the Netherlands, and a company in the Netherlands has recalled products sent to the UK. All items were for food service use and have been withdrawn from the UK market. 

In May 2022, the UK reported 31 Salmonella Mbandaka cases with 25 from England and three each in Scotland and Wales with sample dates between Sept. 2021 and April 2022. Four were admitted to the hospital and one person died.

As of late 2022, Finland had 89 cases while a few patients also lived in the Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Israel. Cases occurred in all age groups.

Ready-to-eat (RTE) chicken products or fresh chicken meat, such as those used in sandwiches and wraps, were said to be the likely vehicles of infection, according to an assessment by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). 

Finnish officials linked the suspected RTE products to an Estonian company, which received processed chicken meat from different suppliers.

ECDC said epidemiological data and microbiological evidence from whole genome sequencing of human isolates indicated there were several sources through different distribution chains.

Sheep survey and food crime work
Meanwhile, the Food Standards Agency started a 12-month survey in five abattoirs in February looking at certain bacteria in sheep at slaughter. This is being done with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), Welsh Government, Animal and Plant Health Agency, UKHSA, and the Veterinary Medicines Directorate.

The survey will assess the presence and prevalence of Salmonella, Campylobacter, E. coli, Enterobacteriaceae, and Enterococci in caecal contents and carcass swab samples collected from ewes and lambs at slaughter in England and Wales.  

More information has also been revealed about Operation Hawk. The ongoing National Food Crime Unit (NFCU) investigation involves Loscoe Chilled Foods which supplied pre-packed meat to Booths, a UK supermarket, which claimed to only sell British products. Items were actually from South America and Europe. It has involved the review of around 1.3 million documents. Three people were arrested this past week before being released as investigations continue.

“Criminal investigations of this nature take time to go through the evidence and arrive at an informed outcome including potential prosecutions. We have to act in a way that doesn’t jeopardize any future legal proceedings,” said Emily Miles, FSA chief executive.   

“The FSA advised retailers last year to check their cooked meat suppliers. When the FSA asks businesses to look at their supply chains we expect them to apply extra due diligence. As the national regulator, we are the last line of defense.”

In December, three suspects in London and Wales were arrested in another investigation into the large-scale supply of smokies, which are created by singeing the fleece off the carcass of a sheep. Smokie carcasses were seized and illegal slaughter sites and a meat-cutting facility were discovered.

Finally, legislation is expected to come into force in October 2023 that brings 2,4-dinitrophenol (DNP) under the remit of the Poisons Act. DNP is an industrial chemical often sold as a slimming or weight-loss aid. It has been linked to more than 30 deaths in the UK since 2007.

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