— OPINION —
While Poland and Salmonella have met before, in Sweden, eggs and Salmonella were less expected this year. There was a worrying rise in botulism incidents, and Fukushima was back in the news in 2023.
While we heard more about Listeria in Enoki mushrooms this year, Salmonella in halva, tahini, sesame-based products, and Hepatitis A in frozen berries are still bubbling near the surface.
Alliance to Stop Foodborne Illness Recognition
Earlier this year, The Alliance to Stop Foodborne Illness announced its list of the Top 40 Food Safety Professionals Under 40. Among the honorees was myself.
It was an unexpected moment of recognition and a career highlight that came with a mug. Sadly, it hasn’t stopped all cases of communications teams quoting already-provided details back at me or appearing to be less than helpful during requests for information. As food safety is a shared responsibility, I’d like more information shared with the public and us. Click here to view all of the Top 40 Food Safety Professionals Under 40.
Weirdest outbreak of 2023
In reality, we probably don’t know the most unusual outbreak this year, but we may find out in the future through studies or reports. From what is public, I’d put forward two suggestions.
First, a large outbreak in Finland was eventually traced to high levels of an additive in tortillas.
More than 800 people, mainly children, were affected in August in Mikkeli. Extensive investigations revealed high concentrations of calcium propionate in tortilla samples from Poland. Calcium propionate is used in bakery products as a preservative. Concentrations in the implicated tortillas were ten times higher than in other tortillas.
Second, an outbreak in Portugal associated with broa de milho (a type of cornbread). More than 200 people fell sick in July. Tropane alkaloids atropine and scopolamine were detected at very high levels. An investigation found evidence of contamination with seeds from the Datura genus, a plant that may be present as weeds in cultivated fields.
Sweden’s Salmonella Egg Headache
Since Salmonella Enteritidis had only been found in commercial laying hens three times since 2003, you would have gotten good odds that Sweden would have a Salmonella egg problem in 2023. But that is exactly what happened following detection at the country’s largest egg producing facility in December 2022.
82 people from 17 regions were infected with Salmonella Enteritidis from December 2022 to February 2023. The outbreak strain was repeatedly found at CA Cedergren during spring and summer despite extensive cleanup efforts and culling of hens. After initially directing eggs from the facility to be heat treated, production was paused for more cleaning in September.
Isolates in Sweden are close to those from outbreaks elsewhere, such as Belgium in 2022. Similar strains have also caused multi-year outbreaks, with cases in multiple countries linked to Polish and Spanish eggs. One suggestion is the strain is present in the centralized breeding pyramid. Investigations into the spread of Salmonella between flocks of laying hens in different countries are ongoing at the EU level.
Chicken and eggs with Salmonella from Poland
The problem of Salmonella in Polish poultry products is well-known. As a major producer and exporter of these products, it only takes an issue at a few companies to cause a large alert. In 2022, 190 Salmonella notifications on the EU’s Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) concerned poultry meat products from Poland.
There have been 200 cases of salmonellosis this year in the United Kingdom caused by different strains of Salmonella Enteritidis, with two outbreaks linked to eggs and three to poultry meat. Between January and October 2023, 14 EU countries, the UK, and the U.S. reported 335 Salmonella infections that implicated producers in Poland. Concerns about the use of antibiotics were also raised in an investigation by broadcaster ITV, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, and newspaper The Guardian.
In 2020, several outbreaks were caused by frozen breaded chicken from Poland. Enhanced control measures in 2021 improved the situation, so here’s hoping it gets better in 2024.
Major Norway and UK E. coli outbreaks
One of the major outbreaks this year came in Norway, not due to its size but because of its severity and location. Technically, it hasn’t been declared over yet, but with no updates since the end of October, hopefully, it has ended.
The Norwegian Institute of Public Health (FHI) reported that E. coli O26:H11 had been detected in 24 people. It was one of the country’s most severe E. coli outbreaks. Fifteen of those infected were under the age of 13, and nine children have developed a type of kidney failure known as hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). The outbreak strain was found in a hamburger, but other minced (ground) meat products that used the same raw materials were also withdrawn from the market.
In the UK, a Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) O183 outbreak sickened at least 25 people. Six people were hospitalized, one developed HUS, and one person died. Given we are still waiting for the report on a large UK E. coli outbreak in 2022, it may be a while before we find out more.
Botulism outbreaks and recalls
There appear to have been more botulism incidents this year, certainly those caused by commercial products. At the start of the year, we had a case of botulism linked to almond milk in Australia. In July, 11 people who ate a type of Spanish omelet in Spain fell sick, and in September, 16 people who had sardines at a restaurant in France developed botulism.
There were also incidents in Argentina and Vietnam, plus another case in France linked to tinned chili peppers. Several recalls were also undertaken in multiple countries. Some issues include incorrect product storage, missing instructions, and the desire for more artisanal, local, and homemade items. People must understand the potential hazards of such production and mitigate the risks.
Japan’s Fukushima treated water release
Japan went ahead with plans to release water stored at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station into the sea. Water has been treated through an Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) to remove almost all radioactivity, aside from tritium, which will be diluted.
The move was backed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and several countries, including the United States. Still, China, Hong Kong, and Russia were among the nations that imposed import restrictions on seafood products from Japan. These bans are subject to ongoing World Trade Organization (WTO) discussions.
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