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Study: Poor egg hygiene in UK

Poor egg handling practices in restaurants and takeaways could be putting UK consumers at risk, reveals a new report from the Health Protection Agency and LACORS (Local Authorities Coordinators of Regulatory Services).

Councils across the UK collected hundreds of egg mix samples from restaurants, takeaways, bakeries, cafés and sandwich bars, along with information on hygiene practices.

Although the study revealed low levels of Salmonella contamination in egg mix samples (0.13%), 14% of takeaways were not aware of key food safety practices for the use of egg mixes. Worryingly, 43% of staff did not wash and dry hands after handling eggs and egg mixes and 41% did not refrigerate egg mixes properly.

Dr Jim McLauchlin, Director of the Food, Water and Environmental Microbiology Service of the Health Protection Agency, said: "While it is encouraging that low levels of Salmonella were found by our researchers, the study shows poor storage and handling practices of egg mixes by catering businesses. There are numerous risk factors involved in mixing and pooling large volumes of eggs by the catering industry which can lead to food poisoning.

Just one egg contaminated with Salmonella can contaminate a whole batch and the risk of infection is increased if it is stored in a warm kitchen environment. Therefore it is extremely important that caterers establish and maintain a food safety management system."

This study, carried out by the Health Protection Agency, LACORS (the Local Authorities Co-ordinators of Regulatory Services) and council Environmental Health Departments, aimed to investigate the incidence of Salmonella contamination in egg mixes and evaluate hygiene practices. The study involved taking samples from 934 catering establishments including restaurants, takeaways, bakeries, cafés, and sandwich bars between May and October 2008 in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Salmonella was detected in 0.13% (1/764) of egg mixes, 0.3% (2/726) of environmental swabs, and 1.3% (7/550) of cleaning cloths.

The study showed that 40% of caterers did not use designated utensils when handling egg mixes; 17% did not clean surfaces and utensils thoroughly after they had been used with egg mixes.

Source: Health Protection Agency

Natalie Berkhout

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