HC Deb 21 February 1989 vol 147 cc613-4W
Mr. Teddy Taylor

To ask the Secretary of State for Health, pursuant to his reply of 16 February to the hon. Member for Southend, East, when his Department first became aware of the health hazards related to the new strain of salmonella; and what steps were taken to advise the general public and categories at particular risk.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

First indications of a problem with salmonella enteritidis PT4 and eggs emerged towards the end of 1987, but sufficient epidemiological evidence to justify public health action did not become available until the summer of 1988. At that time evidence suggested that the problem arose from the consumption of raw eggs or from uncooked dishes containing raw eggs—such as mayonnaise. On 29 July 1988 my Department issued a letter to National Health Service caterers on raw eggs. On 26 August 1988 my Department issued a public press notice advising consumers to avoid raw eggs or home-made dishes containing uncooked eggs. This advice was circulated to chief environmental health officers of local authorities on 2 September 1988 and to catering and hotel organisations on 5 September 1988. Chief environmental health officers of the local authorities were asked to give publicity to this advice.

Subsequently it became apparent from further epidemiological evidence that there was also risk of infection from the consumption of lightly cooked eggs. On 21 November 1988 we issued further public advice. A press release by my Department gave some reassurance that, in the context of the consumption of some 30 million eggs a day in the United Kingdom, the risk to any individual was very small, but that a small number of outbreaks had been associated with the consumption of lightly cooked eggs.

The Chief Medical Officer published further advice on 5 December 1988. He repeated his earlier advice not to eat raw eggs. As far as lightly cooked eggs were concerned, he said the risk of harm to a healthy individual was small but it was advisable for vulnerable groups such as the elderly, the sick, babies and pregnant women to eat only eggs which had been cooked until the white and the yolk were solid. I answered a private notice question in the House on 5 December at columns 19–24 which also set out that advice to the public.

The Government also took steps through a series of newspaper advertisements from 16 to 18 December 1988 to reiterate the advice of the Chief Medical Officer and to ensure that the facts on eggs were known to everyone.