HC Deb 26 February 2003 vol 400 cc638-9W
Mr. Lidington

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what recent assessment he has made of the risks to health from eggs imported from Spain. [97710]

Ms Blears

During October and November 2002, there was a marked increase in the number of outbreaks of Salmonella Enteritidis. Many of these were linked to the use of eggs in catering and in the majority of these, the eggs appeared to have originated from Spain.

Investigations of eggs linked to outbreaks and of eggs in catering premises, carried out by the Public Health Laboratory Service, have identified a higher level of contamination of Spanish eggs by Salmonella (5 per cent. of pooled samples) than was found in previous surveys of eggs, whether United Kingdom produced (1 per cent. of pooled samples) or non-UK produced (2 per cent. of pooled samples).

Eggs, regardless of their origin, cannot be guaranteed to be Salmonella free. However, the risk to public health can be minimised if eggs are properly handled and cooked. The FoodStandards Agency has reiterated advice to a wide range of food businesses, including those catering for vulnerable groups, on the correct handling and use of raw shell eggs. It has drawn the problem with eggs to the attention of the European Commission and the Spanish authorities and has advised importers and wholesalers of imported eggs to send eggs imported from Spain for commercial heat treatment until further notice. Since this advice was issued, the number of outbreaks has fallen to normal background levels.