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Food safety to protect against mounting litigation

Food makers and foodservice providers are facing increasing risks of litigation from consumers. The risk grows with the parallel rise of foodborne pathogens, such as salmonella, in the food chain.

Carried in eggs, poultry, raw milk and chocolate the salmonella bacteria is a major problem in most countries across the globe, leading to hefty costs for the public and private sector. Recent estimates from the US put total annual costs of the pathogen at a massive $2.3 billion. In industrialized countries, the percentage of people suffering from foodborne diseases each year has been reported to be up to 30 per cent.

Last year the UK’s Food Standards Agency and the Health Protection Agency announced plans to clamp down on salmonella. Their investigations revealed that, since 2002, the country had experienced more than 80 outbreaks of Salmonella enteritidis, with 2000 confirmed and an estimated 6000 potential cases. Many of which were linked to Spanish eggs used in the catering trade.

The UK is still recovering from wide outbreaks of this foodborne pathogen in the 1980s that knocked the local egg industry. Figures now show that the number of cases in England and Wales have nearly halved since this time, dropping from 16,047 cases in 1998 to 9757 cases in 2003, mainly due to industry control programs, including the vaccination of chicken flocks.

Advice from the FSA to the food industry includes ensuring that the eggs are commercially heat-treated and caterers should use pasteurised egg in raw or lightly cooked products. "All products made with Spanish eggs should be thoroughly cooked," warned the government agency.

Sweden is the country with the lowest occurrence of salmonella in the world, whose methods have aroused considerable interest from US and European food production lines. The Swedish method attempts to make ‘a polluted product clean’. The control points are moved backwards in the production chain, including the egg production site, as well as strong focus on hygiene related matters.