By Tony Bassett
More than 130 people have fallen ill with salmonella poisoning linked to contaminated eggs imported from Spain.
It is the latest in a line of food poisoning outbreaks associated with Spanish eggs which date back to 2002 and have caused some deaths.
The Health Protection Agency said 136 cases of salmonella infection have been reported since the beginning of this year.
Four people needed hospital treatment and have subsequently recovered.
The HPA said a strain of the salmonella bug had been found in a batch of eggs linked to a single supplier in Spain.
The agency has been investigating the outbreak in partnership with the Food Standards Agency, which, bizarrely, had not publicised it.
Details emerged yesterday only after the British egg industry and one local council went public. The majority of victims have been in the Liverpool and Birmingham areas. But some of the suspect eggs were found on sale at shops and cafes in Sutton, Surrey.
Historically, mayonnaise made with fresh eggs and used in sandwiches has been a contamination risk.
ADVICE AND WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR :
Return eggs stamped with the code 3ES4504734A to the store where they were bought
Caterers’ boxes carrying the code 3ES450470000034A should also be taken back
People should wash their hands and disinfect any surface after touching the eggs
The HPA’s Dr Joe Kearney, who is chairman of the outbreak control team, said: ‘A strain of Salmonella Enteritidis PT 14b that is indistinguishable from the samples taken from affected cases has been isolated from a small number of eggs that carried the same batch number.
‘This batch has been linked to a single supplier in Spain. The FSA formally alerted the Spanish authorities and as a result measures have been taken to eliminate the risk of contamination from this source, including the heat treatment of eggs to kill any salmonella that may be present.’
The flock of hens at the centre of the outbreak have been culled and their sheds are being cleaned.
The FSA said: ‘These eggs were mainly supplied to catering establishments. No further eggs from the implicated batch have been distributed by the UK company.
‘Eggs from the implicated batch were found in three outlets that sell to both wholesale and retail outlets. These eggs have been withdrawn from sale.’
Seventeen deaths have been linked to Spanish eggs in earlier food poisoning outbreaks – 15 in 2004 and two in 2009.
British egg producers, who have long warned about the dangers of cheap imports, reacted angrily after details emerged of the latest outbreak.
The British Egg Industry Council said caterers, retailers and food manufacturers should protect customers by only using eggs carrying the British Lion mark.
Andrew Parker, chairman of the council, said: ‘It is unbelievable that British consumers are still being put at risk by imported eggs.
‘There are plenty of high quality British eggs available, yet UK caterers think that it’s okay to risk their customers’ health by buying cheap, infected, imported eggs. When will they learn that it’s just not worth it?
‘The British egg industry, through the Lion mark, has invested heavily in ensuring that the eggs we sell to consumers are safe, yet we are constantly undermined by eggs that come into the country which are not fit to eat.
‘Caterers should be using due diligence and ensuring that they only serve eggs which conform to Lion standards.’y