The outbreak of Salmonella enteritidis PT14b has left 156 people ill in England, of which 55 were in Hampshire, 33 in Cheshire and Merseyside and 43 in the West Midlands, where three people have died after contracting the bug. There have also been recent outbreaks in Austria and France.
The outbreaks were originally viewed as isolated cases but Public Health England (PHE) launched a national investigation after genetic testing indicated the illness came from a single source.
The authority said ‘some food and environmental samples’ from catering outlets had tested positive for salmonella with the same genetic profile as seen in the outbreak.
Although officials have released no further details on the possible source of the outbreak, the type of salmonella identified, salmonella enteritidis PT14b, has been previously linked to outbreaks in the UK from imported eggs.
This strain of salmonella has not been found in UK eggs and the British Egg Industry Council said caterers should exhibit ‘due diligence’ by ensuring they only serve eggs which confirm to the British Lion standards.
“It is unbelievable that British consumers are still being put at risk by imported eggs,” said Andrew Joret, chairman of the British Egg Industry Council.
“The British egg industry, through the Lion mark, has invested heavily in ensuring that the eggs we sell to consumers are safe, yet we are constantly undermined by eggs that come into the country which are not fit to eat.”
In Hampshire, 33 of the salmonella cases were linked to The Real China Restaurant in Eastleigh, which closed voluntarily but has now re-opened following an investigation by Eastleigh Borough Council.
“Our Environmental Health team is carrying out a full investigation into the outbreak in conjunction with Public Health England,” said a spokesperson for Eastleigh Borough Council.
“Our main priority was to protect public health and the Real China has cooperated fully, voluntarily closing until we were happy with standards of cleanliness and hygiene. Following significant work by the restaurant there is no reason for it to remain closed.”
PHE said 31 of the cases in Cheshire and Merseyside were connected with an outbreak at a ‘single oriental takeaway’, while 34 of the cases in the West Midlands were connected with an outbreak at the Birmingham Heartlands Hospital.
A hospital spokesperson confirmed that three patients died after falling ill with Salmonella, but told reporters it had ruled out food as a source of infection.
Source of the outbreak
In a statement released on Friday, Dr Paul Cleary, a consultant epidemiologist leading the PHE investigation, said he hoped the health body would be able to release further details on the source of the outbreak soon.
"We are working with our colleagues across PHE, the Food Standards Agency, in local authorities and with other public health organisations in Europe to investigate the cause of this outbreak," he said.
"We are making good progress and hope to have more conclusive evidence shortly. We will continue to monitor the situation and if there is any further public health action necessary then we will ensure that this takes place."
A spokesperson for the Food Standards Agency (FSA), which oversees hygiene in restaurants and takeaways across the UK, said it was also asking local authorities to "be vigilant with any cases of illness that appear in their areas and report them immediately".