More than 130 people have fallen sick in 11 countries with contaminated chicken meat from Poland suspected as being the source of infection.

An analysis by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) focused on two sub-clusters of Salmonella Enteritidis sequence type (ST) 11 with 134 cases mostly reported between January and August 2023. This Salmonella Enteritidis sequence type is the most frequently detected in Europe.

In one cluster, 97 cases with recent or historical isolates, that were closely related genetically, were reported with 22 cases in Denmark, 19 in France and 12 each in Ireland and the Netherlands. Norway has nine patients, Austria and Belgium both have six, Finland has five, Slovenia has three, Sweden has two, and Germany has one.

Link to meat from Poland
In Denmark, the majority of 19 interviewed cases reported consumption of kebab or pizza that may have had chicken as an ingredient, before developing symptoms. In Austria, two of five interviewed patients reported eating chicken kebabs within seven days before the onset of symptoms and two sick people ate other dishes such as chicken burrito and chicken schnitzel.

Last week, the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration (Fødevarestyrelsen) found Salmonella in a batch of frozen chicken kebab meat from Poland, which was withdrawn from the market. The meat was intended to be further heat-treated before eating.

Further tests found it was the same type of Salmonella that sickened people in Denmark from May to August. Frozen chicken kebab products were mainly sold to restaurants. Salmonella cannot survive heat treatment above 75 degrees C (167 degrees F). Fødevarestyrelsen said it would intensify scrutiny on other batches of chicken products from Poland to ensure they are not contaminated with Salmonella.

In the other cluster, 37 cases were reported with 10 each from France and Germany. Austria has eight patients, Sweden has four, Norway has three, and Slovenia has two.

The majority of tested isolates have shown resistance to ciprofloxacin. When antibiotic treatment is required, ciprofloxacin is often used but other antibiotics are needed for these cases.  

More people sick
The two clusters represent only some Salmonella Enteritidis ST11 infections and these strains continue to pose a risk in Europe until sources in the food chain are properly investigated and controlled, said ECDC.

This is shown by information from Austrian authorities, who have recorded 27 sick people in all federal states except Tyrol. One cluster has 14 cases from February to May 2023. Patients are between the ages of 10 and 64.

Another cluster has seven patients aged between 5 and 63 and a 63-year-old man died. Austrian media reported the Klagenfurt public prosecutor’s office is investigating the death. The third cluster, with the latest illness in July, has six cases in Austria aged between 7 and 75.

There were also 65 infections associated with an English outbreak in 2023. For 43 cases linked to a restaurant, the mean age was 32 with a range of 6 to 61 and 17 were female. Epidemiological investigations suggested eggs or chicken as the likely cause.

Thorough cooking of meat and poultry and avoiding cross contamination from uncooked meat to ready-to-eat food are vital to prevent infection with Salmonella.

In 2021, ECDC and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) disclosed a multi-country outbreak of Salmonella Enteritidis ST11 linked to poultry products. In 2020 and 2022, two assessments were published on outbreaks of Salmonella Enteritidis ST11 linked to eggs and egg products, showing circulation of the bacteria responsible since 2013.

Meanwhile, a recent control campaign by the National Food Chain Safety Office (Nebih) in Hungary found numerous hygiene problems, Salmonella positive products and one site was temporarily suspended. The seasonal operation looked at outlets selling gyros – a type of sandwich with meat and salad – and other meats.

In late July, Nébih officials conducted inspections in seven gyros distribution units. Proceedings were opened against five sites due to hygiene and traceability deficiencies. The operation of one was suspended. It has since been re-inspected with defects corrected and the required cleaning carried out, allowing it to continue operating.

A total of 19 products were also sampled at eight producers. Tests confirmed Salmonella in seven batches of poultry, so proceedings were brought against the three producers involved. Another two findings of Salmonella in other checks resulted in action including a manufacturer being told to review slaughter hygiene.

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