Turkey salmonella causing concern

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 14th May 2008

A survey published yesterday by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has ignited concern about the safety of European commercial turkey meat for human consumption.

The report, completed by an EFSA Task Force on European farms in 2006-07, found a full range of Salmonella types were estimated to be present in almost one third of turkey flocks reared for human consumption (30.7%) and in 13.6% of turkey flocks kept for breeding purposes. Amongst the full range of Salmonella types, Salmonella Enteritidis and Salmonella Typhimurium (the two Salmonella types responsible for the majority of Salmonella-related food infections in humans) were detected in 3.8% of flocks reared for human consumption and in 1.7% of breeding flocks. Although there was a lower level of Salmonella in breeding flocks, Salmonella-infected chicks from breeding flocks which are sold to turkey-rearing farms for consumption can spread Salmonella amongst these flocks.

These results will now help the European Commission in setting targets to reduce Salmonella Enteritidis and Salmonella Typhimurium in turkey farms across the EU. The EFSA Task Force is also recommending action at national level to reduce other serious types of Salmonella which often cause human infections.

Levels for the full range of Salmonella types detected in turkey flocks varied quite significantly between Member States. Three Member States reported no cases at all in flocks reared for human consumption, while others detected levels as high as 78.5%.

Infections from salmonella can range from mild to severe gastroenteritis and in some vulnerable groups, such as children and the elderly can be fatal. Risks for consumers are from under-cooking of turkey meat or cross-contamination to other foods. Thorough cooking and strict kitchen hygiene will prevent or reduce the risk posed by Salmonella contaminated turkey meat.

Salmonella was the second most reported cause of food-borne diseases in humans in Europe with 160,649 people suffering from Salmonella infections in 2006 (approximately 35 people in every 100,000).