UK agencies stepping up action to protect the public's health following continued outbreaks of Salmonella Enteritidis

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The UK Health Protection Agency (HPA) and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) are stepping up action to protect the public's health following continued outbreaks of Salmonella Enteritidis (other than phage type 4) since 2002, many of which have been linked to Spanish eggs used in the catering trade.

The HPA has investigated over 80 outbreaks of these strains of salmonella in the past two years, with at least 2,000 confirmed cases, and our evidence shows that the use by the catering trade of Spanish eggs is a major source of this infection.

A national outbreak control team, which includes the FSA, was convened by the HPA to look at this problem, and recommended that various actions should be taken, in the UK and in Europe, to prevent further people from becoming ill, this includes alerting caterers to the risks to health that are clearly associated with some non-UK eggs.

Dr Barry Evans, who chaired the outbreak control team said: "The continuing outbreaks of Salmonella Enteritidis show that the problem of the contamination of Spanish eggs has not been resolved and we are concerned that so many people have now been affected. Salmonella food poisoning is an unpleasant illness and, although most people make a full recovery, it can be extremely serious for vulnerable groups such as the elderly, babies or people in poor health".

Dr Judith Hilton, Head of Microbiological Safety at the FSA, added:

"Salmonella in UK eggs has been steadily decreasing but there is still a particular problem with some Spanish eggs. Since January 2004, these eggs have had to be marked ‘ES’ so both caterers and consumers know that they will need to take extra care if they use these eggs, or they may choose to use UK eggs, marked ‘UK’, which we know have far fewer problems. We are also pressing the European Commission to take further action to tackle this problem."

FSA advice to caterers and egg importers and wholesalers is:

  • Importers and wholesalers of Spanish eggs should ensure that the eggs are commercially heat-treated
  • Caterers should use pasteurised egg in raw or lightly cooked products
  • All products made with Spanish eggs should be thoroughly cooked
  • In kitchens and food preparation areas where ordinary eggs are being used, good food hygiene practices are important to avoid the risk of cross-contamination.

The vast majority of eggs imported from Spain are used in the catering trade but it is not possible to rule out finding them on sale in some shops.

FSA advice to consumers is:

  • Most eggs that people buy are UK eggs and they are very low risk
  • If you do buy Spanish eggs you should ensure that they are thoroughly cooked before use
  • Spanish eggs should not be used in any raw or lightly cooked foods
  • It would be sensible to avoid using Spanish eggs if cooking or catering for vulnerable people such as the elderly, very young or sick
  • Good food hygiene practices in the home continue to be important for everyone cooking and handling raw eggs, wherever they come from

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