EFSA evaluates possible reduction of Salmonella in laying hens

EFSA was asked by the European Commission to evaluate the impact on public health of different reduction levels of Salmonella in laying hens. The presence of Salmonella in laying hens is considered a risk for humans, as consumers can become infected with the bacterium through eating eggs or meat from these animals. EFSA’s work will support any consideration by the Commission of setting new targets to control Salmonella.

EFSA’s Biological Hazards (BIOHAZ) Panel said that concerning eggs from laying hens, the type of Salmonella most frequently associated with human illness is by far Salmonella Enteritidis.

Based on scientific estimates, the Panel found a linear relationship between the number of Salmonella Enteritidis positive flocks in the different Member States and the number of eggs contaminated with this micro-organism. This implies that a reduction in the number of positive flocks would result in a proportional reduction in the number of contaminated eggs.

The Panel also said that it is difficult to give a precise estimation of the impact that a reduction of Salmonella positive flocks may have on public health. This is due to the lack of information on the number of Salmonella contaminated eggs that may be produced by an infected flock, as well as on the number of human salmonellosis cases linked to the consumption of eggs.

For egg products, the Panel added that technologies commonly used to reduce the number of microorganisms (mainly through pasteurisation) may not be an absolute barrier to Salmonella contamination.

Regarding risk of salmonellosis associated with consumption of fresh meat from laying hens, the Panel concluded that there are insufficient data to make a quantitative evaluation.

A series of recommendations on data gathering and surveillance measures are also listed in the opinion in order to improve future assessments.

Notes to editors

In 2008, a total of 131,468 human cases of salmonellosis were reported in the EU and food is considered the main source of infection for humans. The presence of Salmonella in chicken is considered a risk factor for humans, because of the presence of the bacterium in chicken meat and eggs. To keep foods safe from microorganisms, it is recommended to follow good hygiene practices in the preparation of meals and to cook foods thoroughly.

Regulation (EC) No 1168/2006[1] defines targets for the reduction of Salmonella in laying hens. In this opinion, EFSA was asked to assess the public health impact of reducing the proportion of flocks of laying hens which are positive to Salmonella from 3.1% (which was the EU average in 2008) to a transitional target of 2% and finally to 1%.

EFSA’s BIOHAZ Panel estimated the reduction of the number of contaminated eggs using a mathematical model developed by EFSA’s Unit on Assessment Methodology (AMU). This model was used to calculate the impact that a reduction in the number of positive flocks can have on contaminated eggs.

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