The European Commission has stepped in to try to stop a multi-year, multi-country Salmonella outbreak associated with sesame-based products. Several patients from the United States have been confirmed.

An increased level of official controls will be applied to tahini and halva entering Europe from Syria because of the risk of Salmonella contamination. Consignments will be subject to identification and physical checks at a frequency of 20 percent.

An ongoing outbreak linked to tahini and halva from Syria has affected Germany, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and the Netherlands. In Europe, at least 120 people have become sick since January 2019, with Germany having the most cases. People have been infected by Salmonella Havana, Salmonella Mbandaka, Salmonella Orion, Salmonella Kintambo, Salmonella Senftenberg, and Salmonella Amsterdam.

The United States reported six Salmonella Mbandaka cases, one in 2020 and five in 2021. Canada had eight confirmed patients: five of Salmonella Mbandaka, two of Salmonella Havana, and one of Salmonella Orion from 2019 to 2021. In 2022 in New Zealand, an outbreak of Salmonella Kintambo involved three patients who had consumed sesame-based products from Syria. 

So far this year, five alerts have been posted in the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) portal for Salmonella in halva from Syria, Egypt, and Turkey, seven for Salmonella in tahini, and four for Salmonella in sesame paste.

Aflatoxins and cyanide
The move was made in revised legislation setting the rate of official controls and special conditions for food and feed of non-animal origin imported into Europe. Rules are modified every six months.

Decisions are based on notifications in RASFF and information from document, identity, and physical checks by EU countries in the second part of 2022.

Pistachios and derived products from the United States dispatched to the EU from Turkey will be checked at a frequency of 50 percent for aflatoxins. Consignments should also be accompanied by an official certificate issued by Turkish authorities stating sampling results show compliance with EU rules.

Pistachio products originating in the U.S., which were dispatched to Europe from Turkey before the updated regulation was applied, may enter the EU until Aug. 27 this year without sampling results and the official certificate.

Recent official controls found a high rate of non-compliance for aflatoxins in groundnut products from Egypt. The frequency of identity and physical checks on these consignments has been upped to 30 percent.

Special conditions have been applied to unprocessed apricot kernels from Turkey because of the cyanide risk. All consignments must be accompanied by a certificate showing compliant sampling findings. Increased levels of official controls with checks on 50 percent of shipments have been in force since July 2019. Special conditions apply to batches coming into the EU after Aug. 27, 2023.

Looser ethylene oxide restrictions
A number of changes were made to various products from different countries relating to ethylene oxide.

Locust beans (carob), locust bean seeds, and guar gum from India have been subject to strict controls and special conditions because of the risk of contamination by ethylene oxide since January 2022. Thanks to improved compliance, the need for each consignment to have an official certificate stating all analysis results show compliance is to be removed. Identity and physical checks will be performed on 20 percent of imported consignments.

Similar measures were taken for locust beans and locust bean seeds from Turkey because of better results from controls.

Tighter oversight has also been in place for instant noodles containing spices and seasonings or sauces from South Korea and Vietnam since December 2021. Improved compliance for ethylene oxide means an official certificate will no longer be needed but checks have been set at 20 percent.

Guar gum from India has been subject to strict checks because of the risk of contamination by pentachlorophenol and dioxins since February 2015. The requirement for an official certificate has been removed but controls will occur at a frequency of 50 percent.

The need for an official certificate showing aflatoxin testing results for certain peppers from India has been relaxed but shipments will still be checked at a rate of 10 percent.

Dried apricots and apricots from Uzbekistan have been checked more because of the risk of sulfites since April 2015. However, recent good findings mean stricter controls are no longer needed.

Changes were made to the rules on groundnut products from Senegal, Sudan and Gambia and watermelon seeds and derived products from Nigeria, all for aflatoxins; locust beans and locust bean seeds from Malaysia for ethylene oxide and certain peppers from Pakistan due to pesticide residues as these products had not recently been imported to Europe.

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