PARMA, ITALY – The European Commission has asked the European Food Safety Authority (E.F.S.A.) to evaluate the impact on public health of different reduction levels of Salmonella in laying hens. Salmonella present in laying hens is a risk for humans because consumers can become infected with the bacterium by eating eggs or meat from these animals.

E.F.S.A.’s work will support any consideration by the commission of setting new targets to control Salmonella.

Regarding eggs from laying hens, the type of Salmonella most frequently associated with human illness is by far Salmonella Enteritidis, E.F.S.A.’s Biological Hazards (BIOHAZ) panel said. 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 a reduction in the number of positive flocks would result in a proportional reduction in the number of contaminated eggs.

It is difficult to give a precise estimation of the impact that a reduction of Salmonella-positive flocks may have on public health, the panel also said. 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.

Regarding egg products, the panel said technologies commonly used to reduce the number of microorganisms (mainly through pasteurization) may not be an absolute barrier to Salmonella contamination.

In regards to the risk of salmonellosis associated with consumption of fresh meat from laying hens, the panel concluded 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.