UK: Fresh basil linked to salmonella cases


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Contaminated packets of ready-to-eat herbs, such as basil, could be causing outbreaks of salmonella, UK scientists have found.


By Rebecca Smith, Medical Editor
Last Updated: 6:10PM GMT 24 Nov 2008

Samples of herbs were found to be contamined with salmonella and have been linked to outbreaks of the bug that causes severe stomach upsets in the UK.

Basil grown in Israel is thought to have been the cause of 32 cases of salmonella in people in England and Wales last year, Government scientists said.

The Health Protection Agency and the Local Authorities Co-ordinators of Regulatory Services sampled 3,760 packets of fresh ready to eat herbs between May and October last year and found a small proportion were contaminated with unsafe levels of Salmonella Senftenberg which can cause diarrhoea, vomiting, abdominal pain and fever.

Jim McLauchlin, Director of the Health Protection Agency's Food, Water & Environmental Microbiology Services, said: "Our survey found six herb types to be contaminated with ten different types of salmonella. The basil samples that were found to be contaminated with S. Senftenberg were all grown in Israel.

"Investigations undertaken at the time of these samples testing positive identified thirty-two human cases of S. Senftenberg in individuals throughout England and Wales, and it is likely that these cases were linked to consumption of fresh basil.

"The presence of salmonella in ready-to-eat foods such as fresh herbs is unacceptable, and in each case the retailer and the Food Standards Agency were immediately informed and action was taken to prevent the risk of people becoming ill.

"There are two important measures that can be taken to protect the public from becoming ill as a result of consuming herbs.

"The first is in the growing process where careful steps should be taken to control potential points of contamination. The second is that consumers can also wash their herbs, particuarly if they are to consume them without further cooking, so as to minimise the risk that their herbs aren't contaminated with any bacteria."

Salmonella lives in the gut of animals and occasionally humans and is usually spread by through eating undercooked food, or cross-contamination in the kitchen from raw foods to cooked foods or hands.

There are around 15,000 cases of salmonella reported in the UK each year and Salmonella Senftenberg is a relatively uncommon strain.




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