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Seasoned minced meat and raw minced pork are not for little children!

11/2012, 12.03.2012

The BfR recommends that especially sensitive groups of people refrain from the consumption of raw animal foods, since they are often contaminated with pathogens.

According to a recent study by the Robert Koch Institute, even small children in Germany eat raw meat more often than expected. "Raw animal foods are often contaminated with pathogens", explains Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel, President of the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR). "For this reason, especially vulnerable sections of the population, such as small children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with a weakened immune system, should as a rule not eat these foods raw." Raw meat can transmit, among other things, salmonella, Campylo­bacter, E. coli including EHEC, Yersinia, Listeria and also viruses and parasites.

A recent study by the Robert Koch Institute published in the Epidemiological Bulletin has shown that raw minced pork is the most important risk factor for contracting yersiniosis. Yesiniosis is a gastro-intestinal disease which is notably caused by the bacterium Yersinia enterocolitica. Yersinia are predominantly spread through food, especially raw pork. Pork, for example minced pork and seasoned minced meat, is often eaten raw in Germany. One of the surprising findings of the published study was the high number of children who had eaten raw minced pork. Even of children who were one year old or younger it was reported that almost 30% of those who had fallen ill (and 4 % of the control persons) had eaten raw minced pork.

In Germany and other European countries, Campylobacter is now the most prevalent bacterial pathogen for enteric infections in humans. In the year 2011, more than 70,000 human campylobacteriosis cases were reported. Campylobacter bacteria are notably found in raw or insufficiently heated poultry meat, but also in raw meat of other animals as well as raw milk and hen’s eggs.

The number of reported salmonellosis cases in humans, especially from Salmonella Enteritidis, has fallen significantly in the last three years. This indicates that salmonella control in poultry, carried out in accordance with Regulation (EC) No. 2160/2003 of the European Parliament and the Council from 17 November 2003 on the control of salmonella and other specified food-borne zoonotic agents, and especially the regulations concerning laying hens and eggs, are showing first signs of success. In contrast, human infections with Salmonella Typhimurium have decreased to a lesser extent. Salmonella Typhimurium are especially common in turkey meat and pork. As part of zoonosis monitoring, salmonella, most frequently Salmonella Typhimurium, were detected in 5 % of minced meat samples in 2009. This finding confirms that raw minced meat can be a source of infection for humans.

To protect themselves against often severe cases of food-borne infections, especially vulnerable sections of the population such as children under five, pregnant women, elderly and persons with a weakened immune system should as a matter of principle refrain from eating raw foods. They should therefore avoid consuming raw mince or seasoned minced meat, raw sausage, raw milk and raw-milk cheese, raw fish (e.g. sushi) and certain fishery products (e.g. smoked and gravad salmon) as well as raw seafood (e.g. raw oysters).

Ground meat such as mince in particular offers, on account of its large surface, ideal breeding conditions for microorganisms. To avoid that such meat goes off and that pathogens can grow, especially strict requirements apply to the production and storage of raw mince. This means that minced meat bought over the counter should, even in private households, only be stored in the fridge and used up on the day it is bought. Pre-packed fresh mince must come with a use-by date (“use by...”) and a description of the storage temperature to be observed. If the storage temperature stated on the packaging cannot be adhered to in the private household, the mince should be used on the day it is bought and thoroughly fried. After expiry of the use-by date, raw minced meat should not be eaten.

Consumers can continue to protect themselves by cooking meat and poultry sufficiently and evenly before it is eaten. Such meat must be cooked until the juices run clear and the meat has a whitish (poultry), gray-pink (pork) or gray-brown (beef) colour. The inside temperature of the meat should be at least 70 °C for two minutes. If in doubt, consumers can measure this temperature by means of a meat thermometer.

It is especially important to observe general rules of hygiene. To prevent cross-contamination, the same kitchen utensils should never be used for handling raw and cooked foods, unless these utensils have in between been washed thoroughly with hot water and detergent. In addition, it is advisable to use different chopping boards for cutting meat and poultry on the one hand and fruit and vegetables on the other. Hands should be washed immediately and thoroughly following contact with raw foods.

About the BfR

The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is a scientific institution within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMELV). It advises the Federal Government and Federal Laender on questions of food, chemical and product safety. The BfR conducts its own research on topics that are closely linked to its assessment tasks.

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