Recent controls in Austria have found Campylobacter in raw milk, Salmonella in chicken, and Hepatitis E in raw pork liver.

Earlier this year, a campaign checked raw milk from vending machines for germs and residues of cleaning agents.

The Austria Agency for Health and Food Safety (AGES) said that raw milk could contain pathogens despite hygiene measures during milking. The advice is to boil it before drinking. For products sold directly to consumers via vending machines or in the farm shop, the note: “Raw milk, boil before consumption” must be present.

Sixty samples from across Austria were examined and 23 were rejected. Overall, 21 did not comply because the total bacterial count was too high. One sample was contaminated with Campylobacter. Two samples were non-compliant because of a lack of information on the vending machine about boiling the product.

Raw milk from vending machines had been examined for microbiological quality in two previous campaigns in 2017 and 2020. In these actions, milk from 112 different farms was checked. Samples from 40 companies were non-compliant, including five firms on two occasions.

RTE food and Hepatitis E
Another campaign looked at ready-to-eat food and sandwiches from retail. Spoilage and hygiene indicator germs and pathogens were tested for while labeling was assessed for packed items.

Samples were taken from a range of outlets including catering establishments, retirement and nursing homes, hospitals, schools and kindergartens, self-service restaurants, and supermarkets.

From almost 1,500 samples, 73 were non-compliant. Five were judged harmful to health as one mixed salad with cured meat contained Listeria monocytogenes and in four the levels of presumptive Bacillus cereus were too high.

Seven samples were unsuitable for human consumption or the intended use because levels of hygiene indicators or spoilage organisms were very high. In two samples, the value of E. coli as a hygiene indicator was too high. For one sample, there was a lack of information on allergens. Of 165 samples of pre-packaged goods, problems with labeling were found on 34 occasions.

In another work, the prevalence of Hepatitis E in raw pork liver from the retail trade was assessed.

Hepatitis E virus (HEV) was found in three of the 78 samples. Authorities said that although virus RNA was detected three times, the risk of consumers being infected through pig liver produced in Austria is low. Campaigns in 2015 and 2019 found no positive samples. A total of 61 cases of HEV were reported in Austria in 2021 and 40 in the first three quarters of 2022.

Campylobacter and Salmonella results
A different campaign has verified self-checks by operators for Campylobacter in poultry slaughterhouses.

A total of 290 official samples of broiler chickens of the same batch were taken at the slaughterhouse at the same time as self-control samples and tested for Campylobacter. Results showed the overall process of self-checks, including laboratory methods and sending of samples, was sometimes unsatisfactory.

The EU process hygiene criterion is based on the Campylobacter count on broiler carcasses. From 2020, actions are needed by slaughterhouses if 15 of 50 carcasses show more than 1,000 cfu/g of Campylobacter after chilling.

In some slaughterhouses, test results or findings from internal checks showed unsatisfactory results according to EU regulations, at least once during the control period. In certain cases, corrective measures should have been taken at slaughterhouses as early as August 2022, said AGES.

The agency said an absence of results above 1,000 colony-forming units per gram (cfu/g) over 14 summer weeks was “highly questionable.” Especially when in its investigations, levels above 1,000 cfu/g were detected.

Recommendations included improvements in slaughter hygiene, a review of process controls, and of biosecurity measures at farms. These actions should also be checked regularly by authorities, said AGES.

A previous control looked at Salmonella and Campylobacter in chicken meat. More than 300 samples were taken and 20 were non-compliant.

In 231 of 302 samples, Campylobacter was detected. There was no major difference in the levels of contamination between organic and conventional production or in domestic and foreign products. Foreign-produced or conventionally-raised chickens were significantly more likely to be contaminated with Salmonella than domestically-produced or organically-raised chickens.

Salmonella Infantis was detected in 62 of the 69 Salmonella-contaminated samples. Campylobacter was also found in 52 samples that tested positive for Salmonella.

A total of 38 of 209 domestic samples were positive for Salmonella, while 31 of 93 imported samples were contaminated. Salmonella was isolated from 11 of 21 samples from Hungary.

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