Investigations into a Salmonella outbreak are ongoing but a Listeria outbreak has ended, according to the Food Standards Agency (FSA).
More than 130 people are sick with Salmonella Mbandaka after eating chicken products from Ukraine. Four patients were admitted to hospitals and one person died.
In response to repeated non-compliance with partly cooked chicken products from Ukraine, a system of Intensified Official Controls (IOC) was started in April. This included a requirement that the next 10 imported consignments from the implicated establishment would be subject to extra inspections.
Because of continued breaches of food safety requirements, this was escalated to Imposed Checks in May. These physical, documentary and testing inspections will remain in place until a minimum of 30 consecutive favorable results are achieved.
The UK importer has stopped receipt of the steam-cooked chicken product until the issue is resolved and is testing all their uncooked product on arrival into the UK for Salmonella. An investigation by Ukrainian authorities has resulted in risk management measures being taken at the facilities of the manufacturer.
In late 2022, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) reported that Finland had 89 cases while a few patients also lived in the Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Israel.
In a Listeria outbreak, there were three confirmed patients linked by microbiology and food history to a type of cheese. One person died. The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has declared the outbreak is over.
Investigations traced the source of all patients back to a producer of Baronet cheese and five product recalls were issued. More than 70 businesses were identified in the supply chain. Efforts involved preventing any further cross contamination where the cheese had been opened and cut.
Patients were aged 59 or older and were from the south of England or London. One person fell sick in November 2022, while the other two became ill in February 2023.
The Old Cheese Room said it had changed a monthly testing regime to positive release, meaning that every batch of cheese is tested before it leaves the premises.
In a recent board meeting, FSA noted the incidence of foodborne illness was returning to pre-pandemic levels or higher. Work is ongoing looking at potential factors influencing the data. However, it was mentioned that weather conditions contributed to a Shiga toxin-producing E.coli (STEC) outbreak.
Food fraud cases
The National Food Crime Unit (NFCU) is continuing to investigate suspected meat fraud as part of Operation Hawk. The FSA was alerted to fraud allegations in August 2021 and millions of documents were seized.
In March 2023, a warrant was executed at a company and three suspects were arrested in connection with the investigation linked to cooked meat products. New documents and digital files were recovered.
In May, the FSA organized a roundtable and working groups with industry to protect against fraudulent criminal activity. This covered helping whistleblowers report concerns, the role of third party audits in passing on information to regulators to prevent fraud and how the agency can share intelligence-based alerts with industry.
As part of another investigation, a suspect appeared in court in May, charged with four counts of conspiracy to steal and one of money laundering. A trial date has been set for July 2024.
Operation Aspen is looking into a series of alleged European distribution frauds with the value of the food products obtained reaching £600,000 ($760,000). In March, the suspect was charged with five food crime related offences.
FSA, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) and port health authorities in London have also been dealing with illegal export of poultry meat for human consumption from birds originating from an Avian Influenza protection zone. Meat was recalled to the UK and never reached its final destination.
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