ANALYSIS - The numbers of cases of infections from Campylobacter and Salmonella in Europe are falling.
Numbers of cases of E. coli outbreaks are also falling. However, the incidence of Listeriosis are on the rise.
Latest figures from the European Food Safety Authority show that cases of human campylobacteriosis fell by 4.3 per cent in 2012 compared to 2011 – down to 214,268 cases.
However, campylobacteriosis has been the most frequently reported zoonotic disease in humans in the EU since 2005.
The EU notification rate was 55.49 per 100,000 population in 2012, according to the latest statistical report from EFSA, The European Union Summary Report on Trends and Sources of Zoonoses, Zoonotic Agents and Food-borne Outbreaks in 2012.
The report says that there was a clear seasonal trend in confirmed campylobacteriosis cases reported in the EU in 2008–2012 and a significant increasing EU trend.
However, considering the high number of human campylobacteriosis cases, the severity in terms of reported fatalities was low (0.03 per cent).
Overall, 23.6 per cent of food samples were found to be positive for Campylobacter - less than in 2011, when 31.3 per cent of the samples were positive.
However, EFSA said that the reporting countries in the EU in 2011 and 2012 were not exactly the same.
In poultry flocks, two of the five EU countries reported flock-based data for broilers as very high (63.4 per cent) to extremely high (83.6 per cent) prevalence.
The occurrence of Campylobacter varied widely among the three countries reporting slaughter batch-based data, with prevalence ranging from 1.6 per cent to 62.1 per cent. One MS, Germany, also reporting animal-based data, found 9.2 per cent of broilers positive out of 672 units tested at the farm.
“Campylobacter has been on the increase in humans, but for the first time it is going down,” said Dr Frank Boelaert, senior scientific advisor at EFSA.
“In poultry, in hens, on the farm and foodborne outbreaks are down.”
However, he said that EFSA will have to continue monitoring the numbers of cases to see whether this is a trend.
Dr Boelaert said that advisory measures have been put in place to help reduce the prevalence in the EU, but it is up to individual member states to implement biosecurity measures to reduce the number of cases.
He suggested that among the measures that have been adopted are slaughtering birds at a younger age as the older the bird the higher the contamination risk.
Other measures include lowering the load of Campylobacter in the birds’ ceca and the use of devices such as fly screens on farms.
For Salmonella, in 2012, a total of 91,034 confirmed cases were reported in the EU.
This represents a decrease of 4.7 per cent compared to 2011 and a decrease of 43,546 cases (32 per cent) compared with the case numbers reported in 2008.
The EU notification rate for confirmed cases was 22.2 cases per 100,000 population. The EU case-fatality rate was 0.14 per cent as 61 deaths due to non-typhoidal salmonellosis were reported in the EU in 2012.
As in previous years, S. Enteritidis and S. Typhimurium were the most frequently reported serovars (41.3 per cent and 22.1 per cent, respectively, of all known reported serovars in human cases).
The EFSA report said that as a result of the harmonised reporting and also several large outbreaks, monophasic S. Typhimurium 1,4,,12:i:- was the third most commonly reported serovar in the EU (7.2 per cent).
The fourth most common serovar in humans was Salmonella Infantis, of which the numbers of reported isolates have been increasing over the last five years.
EFSA said that the reduction in salmonellosis cases in humans is mainly the result of successful Salmonella control programmes in chicken populations that are in place in EU
Countries have reported in particular lower occurrence of Salmonella in eggs, though other control measures might also have contributed to the reduction, the report says.
Information on Salmonella was reported from a wide range of foodstuff categories in 2012, but the majority of data were from various types of meat and meat products.
The highest proportions of Salmonella-positive single samples were reported for fresh broiler meat at an average level of 5.6 per cent.
In fresh turkey, pig and bovine meat, the percentage of tested single samples found positive for Salmonella in the group of reporting EU Member States were, respectively, 5.1 per cent, 0.7 per cent and 0.2 per cent.
Salmonella was found in a very low proportion of table eggs, at levels of 0.2 per cent (single samples) or less than 0.1 per cent (batch samples).
Salmonella was also detected in other foods, including vegetables, but also in samples originating from both fruit and vegetables, in spices and herbs, in egg products and in live bivalve molluscs.
Non-compliance with the EU Salmonella criteria was most often observed in food categories of meat origin.
Minced meat and meat preparations from poultry intended to be eaten cooked had the highest level of non-compliance (8.7 per cent of single samples and 5.7 per cent of batches). A high proportion of non-compliance was also reported for minced meat and meat preparations from animal species other than poultry intended to be eaten cooked (2.0 per cent of single samples and 0.9 per cent of batch samples) and meat products from poultry meat intended to be eaten cooked (2.9 per cent of single samples).
In 12 batch samples, 8.3 per cent of mechanically separated meat was found to be contaminated with Salmonella.
Salmonella findings in Ready to Eat foods, such as minced meat and meat preparations intended to be eaten raw saw 0.2 per cent of single samples and 0.5 per cent of batch samples positive.
In 2012, 19 countries in the EU met the Salmonella reduction target of one per cent set for breeding chickens, which covers five target serovars (S. Enteritidis, S. Typhimurium, S. Hadar, S. Infantis, S. Virchow).
Overall, 0.4 per cent of chicken breeding flocks in the EU were positive for the target serovars during the production period, which was less than in 2011 (0.6 per cent). In 2012, 0.2 per cent of the adult breeding flocks tested under the mandatory Salmonella control programmes were positive for S. Enteritidis.
Altogether 2.0 per cent of the breeding chickens in the EU were positive for Salmonella spp. (1.9 per cent in 2011).
In the case of flocks of laying hens, 24 EU countries met their relative Salmonella reduction targets, which cover S. Enteritidis and S. Typhimurium. The EU prevalence was reduced for the two target serovars from 1.5 per cent in 2011 to 1.3 per cent in 2012. Overall, during the production period, 3.2 per cent (4.2 per cent in 2011) of laying hen flocks in the EU were positive for Salmonella spp.
This was the fourth year for implementing the EU reduction target of one per cent prevalence for S. Enteritidis and S. Typhimurium in broiler flocks. As in 2011, 24 EU countries met this target in 2012. The EU prevalence for the target serovars was 0.3 per cent, as in 2011. The prevalence of Salmonella spp. was also further reduced from 3.2 per cent in 2011 to 3.1 per cent in 2012.
All but 1 of the 14 EU countries, which reported data on turkey breeding flocks met the target of a one per cent reduction in the prevalence of Salmonella with an overall prevalence of 0.5 per cent for the two target serovars (0.2 per cent in 2011).
A further 22 countries met the target for fattening turkey flocks before slaughter, with only 1 country not meeting the target.
At the EU level 0.4 per cent of the fattening turkey flocks were infected with the two target serovars (0.5 per cent in 2011, two MSs with target-positive flocks). In total, 4.6 per cent and 14.5 per cent of turkey breeding and fattening flocks, respectively, were positive for Salmonella spp. in 2012 (3.5 per cent and 10.1 per cent in 2011).
The one concerning figure to come out of the EFSA report is the rise in the number of cases of listeriosis in 2012. The number reported cases in the EU in 2012 increased by 10.5 per cent compared with 2011.
The overall EU notification rate was 0.41 cases per 100,000 population. The highest notification rates of listeriosis, in 2012, were reported in children below one and persons aged 65 years and above.
A total of 198 deaths due to listeriosis were reported by 18 EU Member states in 2012, which was the highest number of fatal cases reported since 2006. The EU case-fatality rate was 17.8 per cent among the confirmed cases for which this information was reported (67.7 per cent of all confirmed cases).
The number of listeriosis cases reported in the EU in the last five years has fluctuated somewhat over time, but overall in the period 2008-2012, a slowly increasing trend was observed.
The most common source of food contamination with Listeria monocytogenes was in different categories of ready-to-eat (RTE) foods.
The highest reported levels of non-compliance at retail were observed in RTE fishery products (0.5 per cent of single samples and 0.7 per cent of batch samples), followed by RTE products of meat origin (0.4 per cent of single samples).
Samples taken at processing showed that the highest level of non-compliance in single food samples was observed in RTE fishery products (8.0 per cent), followed by unspecified cheeses (3.4 per cent). Unspecified cheeses were also the food category with the highest reported level of non-compliance at processing in batch samples (7.2 per cent).
For Listeria, however, Dr Boelaert said that although there is an increase, it is low and from a low base.
“Listeria is an extremely rare zoonosis, and the bug is not easy to study,” he said. “But it is a low increase from around 1,500 to 1,600 cases. However, the case fatality is quite high.”
One of the main reasons for the increase in Listeria contamination is possible because of changed eating habits and the way consumers store food.
The report also looks at the prevalence of a series of other zoonoses including E. coli. bovine TB, Trichinella, brucellosis, West Nile fever and Q-fever.
You can view the full report by clicking here.