5% of chicken and turkey meats in stores positive for salmonella

Figures from the Belgian Food Safety Agency, the FAVV, show that one in twenty samples of chicken or turkey meat in shops tested was infected with the salmonella bacteria.

The FAVV tested 291 chicken and turkey products out of supermarkets in 2021.  6.5% of samples tested positive for salmonella, up 4% on the year.  Salmonella is a bacterium that lives in the intestines of poultry that may be harmful for humans.

In 2020 7.4% of samples tested in the subcategory processed meat products were infected with salmonella.  Put figures for 2020 and 2021 together and in the shops 5% of samples of chicken and turkey meat are infected with salmonella.

Checks are carried out throughout the production chain.  When chicks hatch the shells are tested a first time.  Chick droppings too are tested when the animals are transferred at the poultry farmers.  Both tests are conducted under the supervision of farmers with no involvement of FAVV.  Three weeks before the animals are slaughtered further tests are carried out in chicken coops with the possible involvement of the FAVV.  In recent figures 4% of samples tested positive, a figure that is rising.

The rise is being linked to the greater presence of the salmonella infantis variant, though Nadine Botteldoorn, who has responsibility for the labs operated by the Flemish animal health care service, says there is too little scientific evidence to say whether or not this variant makes people more unwell or not.    

Even in this phase most of the tests are carried out by farmers.  4% of tests conducted by farmers come back positive, while for FAVV tests the positivity figure is 9.2%.

The FAVV’s Hélène Bonte says FAVV concentrates its checks on locations where infections occur, but even in abattoir tests those carried out by the FAVV show more positives than those conducted by farmers.

VRT’s current affairs flagship Pano that investigated the matter wonders whether it’s sensible to place the burden of testing mainly with producers as European legislation encourages.

The Food Safety Agency and distribution federation Comeos both note that eradicating salmonella won’t be possible.

“There no zero risk” says Comeos’s Nathalie De Greve.  “That’s why the advice is to cook meat well to ensure no issues with food safety”. 

“Also wash your hands to ensure the bacteria isn’t transmitted” says FAVV’s Hélène Bonte.  “Give knives and cutting planks an extra rub when you clean them”.

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