Food Safety Testing Programme Extended

New Zealand Food Safety (NZFS) is extending a programme of testing to determine the extent of Salmonella Enteritidis (SE) in poultry flocks in New Zealand and to reduce the risk to consumers.

NZFS has been carrying out tracing and testing of poultry operations after SE was found at an Auckland poultry farm.  These efforts have focussed on egg producers rather than meat as farms have existing measures to protect against salmonella and cooking chicken meat kills the bacterium.

As a result, restrictions have been placed on three North Island egg layer operations, preventing potentially infected eggs from reaching consumers.

The new testing programme widens our focus and includes 20 egg-laying facilities and five chick rearers that collectively account for 80 per cent of the industry’s table eggs, said Deputy Director-General Vincent Arbuckle.

"Consumer safety is our number one priority here. While we think the overall risk to consumers is low, there is developing evidence of a potential link between poultry and recent cases of SE in humans. We consider this testing to be part of our precautionary measures to limit risk to consumers and industry.

"The poultry industry supports this approach as well as our plans to introduce further regulatory controls for the risk of SE."

Arbuckle said NZ Food Safety expected the testing programme to take about two months.

"We’ve contacted the facilities involved and will work with them to carry out the testing. Where there is evidence that implicates food products, actions will be taken as appropriate, to protect consumers."

In the meantime, to reduce the possibility of getting ill through food, we'd like to remind people to follow the 3Cs of food safety at home: Clean food preparation surfaces, cook raw meat thoroughly, and chill cooked meat in the fridge.

There are key actions people can take to protect against Salmonella Enteritidis in eggs.

They include:

  • Keep eggs in the fridge after purchase.
  • Avoid raw or undercooked egg products. In particular, don’t serve raw eggs to children under 2 years of age, pregnant woman, the frail and elderly, and people with low or compromised immune systems.
  • Cook eggs thoroughly - until the white is completely firm and the yolk begins to thicken.
  • Wash your hands after handling eggs.
  • Consume eggs within the recommended date on the carton.
  • Keep surfaces and kitchen utensils clean and dry before and after handling eggs.
  • Use clean eggs free from dirt, faecal matter and cracks.

"Symptoms of Salmonella illness include abdominal cramps, diarrhoea, fever, headache, nausea and vomiting. It can be serious in people with reduced immunity, older people, children, and pregnant women,’’ Arbuckle said.

"If you are concerned about your health, please contact your doctor for advice."

The information collected from the survey will also inform the development of regulations to manage potential risk on poultry farms which is currently underway.

There have been 47 cases of Salmonella Enteritidis reported in 2021 to date. Genome testing has indicated a strong association with the preparation and consumption of poultry products, making this further stage of testing and reminders to consumers a prudent step at this time.