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Scientist urges education rather than ‘panic’ in wake of salmonella egg recall

Email Salmonella egg recall a reminder about hygiene but not cause for panic, scientist says By Joseph Dunstan

Updated March 22, 2019 07:20:20

Victoria's chief health officer Brett Sutton explains the recall Video: Victoria's chief health officer Brett Sutton explains the recall (ABC News) Related Story: Check your eggs — these ones are being recalled over a possible salmonella contamination Map: Melbourne 3000

The recall of hundreds of thousands of eggs due to the detection of salmonella should not prompt panic, but should serve as a reminder for Australians to adopt proper food hygiene practices, according to a researcher.

Complete list of recalled eggs:

  • Woolworths 12 Cage Free Eggs 700g
  • Victorian Fresh Barn Laid Eggs 600g
  • Victorian Fresh Barn Laid Eggs 700g
  • Victorian Fresh Barn Laid Eggs 800g
  • Loddon Valley Barn Laid 600g
  • Affected eggs have best-before dates of March 20, March 23, March 27, March 30, April 3, April 6, April 10, April 14, April 17, April 20, April 24, April 27, April 29

Egg products sold across Victoria, New South Wales, the ACT, Tasmania and South Australia were recalled yesterday after five Victorian cases of illness were linked to salmonella poisoning.

Salmonella is a bacteria commonly found in poultry and causes no illness to the birds, but it can cause fever, headaches, nausea and vomiting in humans when passed on through chicken meat or eggs.

Victorian chief health officer Brett Sutton said on Thursday the specific strain detected, salmonella enteritidis, was a rare strain and likened it to the "cane toad of salmonella".

A computer generated image of salmonella bacteria invading an immune cell. Photo: A rare strain of salmonella bacteria sparked the interstate egg recall. (Flickr: NIAID/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, USA)

He said the strain was more likely to be present inside eggs as they formed, rather than on the outer shell in traces of chicken faeces, which can contaminate eggs when they are cracked.

Salmonella enteritidis is not commonly found in Australia or New Zealand but is found in many other places around the world, including Europe and the United States of America.

'We don't want to create panic'

University of Melbourne researcher Helen Crabb said while salmonella enteritidis is more frequently detected inside eggs than other strains, the way eggs are handled is the greatest risk factor in salmonella poisoning.

"[If] you crack that egg on the side of the bowl and you drop that egg into the dish, whatever was on the outside of that shell might become part of the inside of the egg within a heartbeat," Dr Crabb said.

"So whether it's on or in the egg doesn't necessarily increase the risk absolutely.

"We don't want to create panic over a food safety incident … absolutely we should make sure food is safe to eat, but what we need to do is make sure we educate people."

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She said consumers needed to ensure they were adopting best practice when handling and cooking eggs, including proper refrigeration and hard-boiling the eggs when cooking them.

"Whether there's salmonella there or not, if they handle their eggs appropriately … then that risk will be reduced to practically nothing, and that doesn't matter what kind of salmonella we're talking about," she said.

"You wouldn't buy meat and put it in your cupboard and let it sit in the cupboard for four to six weeks … my advice to all Australians would be that they should refrigerate their eggs."

The Food Safety Information Council recommends eggs be cooked until they reach 72 degrees Celsius if they are being prepared for small children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems.

Raw eggs should never be served to at-risk groups

The council's spokesperson, Lydia Buchtmann, said it was important Australians were aware of the risks posed by raw eggs, which have not been heated to temperatures that kill salmonella bacteria.

Food safety basics

  • Clean: Wash and dry your hands thoroughly and wash and dry chopping boards and utensils, especially after handling raw meats, or vegetables with visible soil
  • Chill: Ensure your fridge is kept below 5 degrees Celsius, and keep cold foods cold
  • Cook: Cook chicken, mince and sausages and similar meats right through until they reach 75C using a meat thermometer. Serve hot food steaming hot above 60C
  • Separate: Keep raw and cooked foods separate when storing and preparing and don't put cooked food back on the surface raw meat was on

Source: Food Safety Information Council

"Be extra careful with raw egg dishes like mayonnaise or aioli, or if you do chuck one in a smoothie, do be aware that can carry slightly more risk of food poisoning," she said.

She said it was critical that dishes containing uncooked eggs were never served to vulnerable people who are at increased risk of salmonella poisoning.

The recalled eggs were produced at Bridgewater Poultry's central Victorian farm, which is now under strict quarantine measures.

In a brief statement last night, the company said it was working with authorities to determine whether the salmonella was introduced to their central Victorian site "through the purchase of interstate eggs".

Dr Sutton had said the detection of salmonella may have been linked to detection of the same strain in New South Wales in recent months.

Topics: food-processing, rural, food-poisoning, diseases-and-disorders, health, food-safety, community-and-society, melbourne-3000, vic, australia, tas, act, nsw

First posted March 22, 2019 06:53:13

Contact Joseph Dunstan

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