January 3, 2006
Ahmed ElAmin
A general increase in reported cases of Campylobacteriosis over the last few years in the EU’s fifteen original member states indicates that food companies need to step up their safety procedures against the disease.
The statistics are in the European Commission’s first report on the persistence in the EU of a range of zoonoses, foodborne diseases that are transmissible from animals to humans.
The report takes the pulse on the state of food safety in the EU, even as the bloc begins implementing tougher hygiene laws aimed at reducing outbreaks of diseases caused by contaminated products.

European consumers have become increasing concerned about food safety. As a result the EU and regulatory authorities in member states have been increasing their regulation of the industry, resulting in more costs and greater public scrutiny of manufacturers’ operations. Recalls of products are also costly and impact on the company’s brand image.
In 2004 the 25 EU countries reported a total of 6,860 outbreaks of zoonoses, with 42,447 people affected.
“The information submitted on antimicrobial resistance in zoonotic bacteria indicated that animals and food of animal origin might serve as reservoirs for resistant bacteria with the risk of direct or indirect transfer of resistant bacteria to humans,” the Commission found.
By far the most frequently reported zoonotic diseases in humans are salmonellosis and Campylobacteriosis, with the most deadly being listerious, the report found.
There were 192,703 reported cases of salmonellosis and 183,961 of Campylobacteriosis cases reported during 2004 in the EU’s 25 member states. The totals have increased for 2004 due to the expansion of the EU to include 10 new member states.
The incidence of salmonellosis represent 42.2 cases per 100,000 population, which represents an increase of 22 per cent when compared with 2003, indicating the higher levels encountered in the new states.
The highest Salmonella contamination rates were due to poultry and pigs and the fresh meat from these animals. This indicates that eggs, poultry meat and pork are major sources of human Salmonella infections.
In the original member states, a general decreasing trend of salmonellosis has been observed in recent years. This decrease is most likely due to implementation of Salmonella control programmes in these countries, the Commission stated.
A quarter of all reported cases in EU-25 are from children aged up to four years, and there is a seasonal peak during the late summer to early autumn. Salmonella Enteritidis serovar comprised 76 per cent of all the reported cases in 2004.
The majority of samples were collected from various types of meat and meat products. The lowest levels of contamination were found in poultry, pig, and bovine meat during the last five-year period have been reported from Finland, Sweden and Norway.
Salmonella was detected at all levels of the poultry meat production, with the highest rates of contamination observed at the slaughterhouse and processing plants. Proportions of positive samples in poultry meat were generally lower than 10 per cent, with the lowest proportions reported in countries with control programmes in the poultry production.
At retail Salmonella was reported in fresh poultry meat ranging from two per cent to 18.5 per cent. A general decreasing trend of Salmonella in table eggs was observed in those countries that had reported consistently.
In pig meat, no clear trend was discernable, except for the Netherlands where a clear reduction was observed. Most countries reported Salmonella prevalences in pig meat below 10 per cent. The contamination levels in bovine meat were generally considerably lower.
Some members reported contamination of ready-to-eat-meat products at the same level as in fresh meat. Such products constitute a particular risk to human health. In milk and dairy products Salmonella was rarely reported.
Several surveys covering spices and herbs revealed relatively high Salmonella contamination. With a few exceptions, new member states generally reported similar levels of Salmonella in food as the original countries.
The overall incidence rate for Campylobacter was 47.6 cases per 100,000 population, a 32 per cent increase from 2003. An trend toward increasing incident rates was observed in the thirteen out of 15 original member states. The exceptions were Spain and Sweden, where rates went down.
The new and original states generally reported incidences within the same range with the exception of the Czech Republic, which reported the highestincidence of human Campylobacteriosis in the EU.
Poultry was the main souce of Campylobacter infections from food. In meat, the highest prevalence, greater than 80 per cent, was reported in poultry meat at slaughter. At the retail level Campylobacter was reported in poultry meat in a range of 8.1 per cent to 77 per cent.
Prevalences in pig meat and bovine meat at slaughter were considerably lower, ranging from no findings to 11.9 per cent. Campylobacter were also isolated from a variety of other foodstuffs such as fishery products, cheeses and vegetables.
The vast majority of the reported data on broiler flocks were from the Nordic countries, where the prevalence ranged from 3.1 per cent to 27 per cent. In all member states Campylobacter positive samples from poultry, pigs and cattle were generally high, ranging up to 91 per cent, 79.6 per cent and 64.2 per cent, respectively.
Voluntary or mandatory control programmes on Campylobacter in broilers exist in six member states and Norway. The control programmes have common traits, the Commission found. The laws generally ensure a high level of biosecurity in the flocks. Carcasses from positive flocks may be frozen or subjected to heat treatment.
With few exceptions, 20 to 50 per cent of all Campylobacter infections in humans were resistant to fluoroquinolones, tetracyclines, quinolones and penicillins. Samples from animals and meat show a common resistance to streptomycin, fluoroquinolones, ampicillin and tetracycline.
Resistance to other antimicrobials, such as macrolides, varied between countries. In some members the vast majority of Campylobacter isolates from poultry, pigs and sheep were resistant to quinolones and fluoroquinolones. In some members, the use of fluoroquinolones in food animals has been restricted in order to prevent the emergence and spread of fluoroquinolone resistance.
A total of 1,267 cases of listeriosis was reported in 2004. The reported incidence in the EU in 2004 was 0.3 cases per 100,000 population which is similar to 2003.
However, in countries with several years of data the incidence of listeriosis has increased when compared with the previous five years. Listeriosis is mainly reported to occur among adults and elderly people. A total of 107 deaths due to listeriosis was recorded.
L. monocytogenes was isolated from many types of foodstuffs. Significant findings above the critical contamination level (100 bacteria/g) were most commonly reported from fishery products, and occasionally from meat products, cheeses and some ready-to-eat meat products.
A total of 4,143 cases of VTEC infections was reported from 17 MS in 2004. The incidence in the EU was 1.3 cases per 100,000 population. The overall number of human cases reported increased compared to 2003.
The majority of this increase was reported by the Czech Republic, which had 42 per cent of the total number of cases. By comparing only those states reporting data for 2003 and 2004, the total number actually decreased by three per cent from 2003 to 2004.
Yersinia bacteria cases caused over 10,000 people to get sick in the EU during 2004. Other bacterial zoonoses — listeriosis, verotoxin producing Esherichia coli (VTEC) infections and brucellosis – each accounted for approximately 1,000 to 4,000 cases.
The numbers of reported listeriosis and VTEC cases seem to be increasing, while the reported numbers of brucellosis cases indicate a decline, the Commission reported.
The actual number of human tuberculosis cases caused by the bovine tuberculosis bacteria is hard to estimate due to incomplete data, but a total of 83 cases were reported in the EU.
Listeriosis accounted for the highest number of reported fatalities, a total of 107 deaths, in 2004.
In general, parasitic zoonotic infections caused fewer human cases than zoonotic bacteria did. There were around 300 to 400 reported cases of illness due to Trichinella and similar numbers of cases caused by Echinococcus parasites.
Toxoplasma was responsible for almost 2,000 cases. Two humans contracted the rabies virus in the EU, but the infections originated from countries outside the EU, the Commission stated.
Information on food-borne disease outbreaks were collected in the past at the EU level but for the year 2004 it has been extensively summarised for the first time. A total of 19 member states submitted the information on a voluntary basis.
All of the 10 new member states reported information for the first time in 2004. Some new members states reported relatively higher numbers of salmonellosis or trichinellosis cases in humans than were reported from the 15 original member states.
In animals the Trichinella parasites and rabies virus were also in many new member states more commonly found. Norway also takes part in the data collection system, as the only non-EU country.
The EU’s new zoonoses directive 2003/99/EC became effect 12 June 2004. Reporting according to the new rules will start with data collected during 2005.
In 2004, data was collected according to the former Directive 92/117/EEC covering 11 zoonotic agents and zoonoses: Salmonella, Campylobacter, Listeria monocytogenes, verotoxin producing E coli, tuberculosis due to Mycobacterium bovis, Brucella, Yersinia, Trichinella, Echinococcus, Toxoplasma and rabies.
In addition, data on antimicrobial resistance in Salmonella and Campylobacter and E. coli as well as foodborne outbreaks were reported.
Zoonoses are diseases, which are transmissible from animals to humans. The infection can be acquired directly from animals, or through ingestion of contaminated foodstuffs. The seriousness of these diseases in humans can vary from mild symptoms to life threatening conditions.