PARMA, ITALY – The European Food Safety Authority (E.F.S.A.) assessment of public health risks from Salmonella in pigs and the impact of possible control measures suggests pigs and pig meat may be responsible for 10% to 20% of all human cases of salmonellosis in the EU – but with differences between countries – and that controlling Salmonella more effectively within the pig meat food chain would have a direct impact on reducing the number of human cases.

Work on this issue by E.F.S.A.’s Biological Hazards Panel (BIOHAZ) was completed at the request of the European Commission and will support the setting of any targets for the reduction of Salmonella in pigs across the European Union. A consortium of institutes from across the European Union was established for the first time, to support the panel opinion and in line with E.F.S.A.’s strategy on cooperation and networking with member states.

This consortium developed an E.U.-level model to quantify the public health risk of Salmonella in the pig-meat food chain.

The panel found evidence suggesting the human cases attributable to Salmonella in pig meat mainly depends on the levels of Salmonella in pigs and pig meat, as well as on consumption patterns and the relative importance of the other sources of Salmonella.

A series of measures to reduce the number of human cases of Salmonella was evaluated by the panel. These included ensuring pigs in breeding holdings are free from Salmonella, ensuring that the feed is also free from Salmonella, adequate cleaning and disinfection of holdings, avoiding contamination during slaughter and decontaminating carcasses. These measures should be used in combination and based on the individual situation of each member state; and a hundredfold reduction of the number of Salmonella bacteria on contaminated carcasses would result in a 60%-80% reduction of the cases of human salmonellosis originating from pig-meat consumption, the panel indicated.

In order to reduce Salmonella in pigs going to slaughter, decreasing the levels of Salmonella in holdings where pigs are bred would result in highest reduction, the experts also indicated. In member states that have high levels of Salmonella, this would lead to the greatest reduction. The panel also said ensuring feed is Salmonella-free could lead to further reductions, and, in member states with lower levels of Salmonella, this approach would have the highest impact.

The opinion also recommends information on the temperature at which the pig meat is kept during transportation and how consumers store it at home is important to further understand the factors that lead to risks for Salmonella in humans.

In 2008, a total of 131,468 human cases of salmonellosis were reported in the E.U. and food is considered the main source of infection for humans. E.U. regulations foresee targets for the reduction of Salmonella in the E.U. and E.F.S.A.’s scientific advice provides a scientific basis for the setting of these targets.