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Number of food samples contaminated with zoonosis pathogens on the increase

33/2001, 22.10.2001

Trend Report 2000 on the course and sources of food infections now on the Internet

In 2000 the number of notified cases of foodborne infections remained steady; overall 200,000 cases of disease were notified. Studies by the federal Länder showed, however, that the number of food samples contaminated with zoonosis pathogens had, in some cases, increased markedly compared with 1999. Since 1996 BgVV has published a Trend Report based on the EU Zoonosis Directive concerning the course and sources of foodborne infections. The Trend Report draws on data supplied by the federal Länder to the National Reference Laboratory for the Epidemiology of Zoonoses.

In Germany salmonella and campylobacter germs are the main cause of most foodborne intestinal infections. There is concern about the fact that in some areas the number of positive samples identified in official food control is again on the increase in 2000 after having fallen in recent years.

The evaluation of the data for the year 2000 showed that salmonella contamination in pieces of beef, veal and pork prepared in the kitchen at home has increased considerably over 1999. Pathogens were detected in 2.5% of samples whereas in 1999 only 0.5% tested positive. The contamination of pork has also increased overall and a rise in samples contaminated with salmonella was also observed for minced meat.

The consumer should continue to exercise particular caution in the case of poultry meat. Almost 20% of the broilers and chickens were contaminated with salmonella. In the case of eggs the number of samples with salmonella has again risen compared with 1999 although it is still on a low level (0.53%).

But also in the case of ready-to-use foods like chocolate and pasta products which may contain eggs, the number of samples contaminated with salmonella increased although it is still on a low level.

Poultry meat was particularly contaminated with campylobacter pathogens although the number of positive samples was lower than in 1999. All the same, the proportion of positive samples is still very high (19%).

Other pathogens like verotoxin forming Escherichia coli (VTEC/STEC), which also include enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli germs (EHEC), are not so important when it comes to the number of diagnosed cases of disease. However, infection with these pathogens is frequently linked with severe health impairments (kidney failure). The studies in the year 2000 showed that the number of positive samples with VTEC/STEC in meat (except for poultry) was higher than 8%; this means a twofold increase over the previous year. The number of contaminated samples of raw milk sold from the farm has also risen.

These findings confirm that the recommendations made by BgVV in earlier press releases (05/95, 03/96, 20/96,14/98) concerning the consumption of raw meat products and raw milk are still valid. Raw milk should always be thoroughly heated prior to consumption!

Listeria monocytogenes germs were repeatedly found in samples of meat and meat products, in fish and fish products and in other marine animals. A marked increase was also observed in contaminated samples of minced meat and similar products which were not preserved in a heat stable but in some other manner. There were particular concerns about the fact that in fish and marine animals but also in raw milk soft cheese and pasteurised dairy products high L. monocytogenes germ counts of more than 10,000 per gram food were detected in some cases. Already at a contamination rate of higher than 100 listeria per gram, illness following consumption of a food of this kind can no longer be ruled out according to the latest scientific findings. BgVV has, therefore, been calling for a long time for a reduction of listeria contamination of ready-to-eat foods at least to below 100 per gram (BgVV recommendations on Listeria monocytogenes in foods, cf.

The studies conducted in 2000 on zoonosis pathogens could point to a lowering of hygiene standards in food plants compared with 1999. The problems could also have their roots in animal husbandry. Finally, improvements in diagnostics (particularly with regard to VTEC/STEC) could have contributed to an increase in the number of notified positive findings. Irrespective of this, a uniformly high level of hygiene should be complied with on all levels from agriculture through to the retail food trade.

The German Trend Report on the course and sources of zoonosis infections according to the Zoonosis Directive (92/117/EEC) for the year 2000 can be accessed on the BgVV website on (german version).


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