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Salmonella Poona multi-country outbreak linked to infant formula, EFSA assessment suggests

The multi-country outbreak of Salmonella Poona that has affected 32 young children in France, Belgium and Luxembourg, has been found to have a common food source – infant formula. This is according to a new European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) assessment.

Health officials in France, Belgium and Luxembourg have reported that the reported Salmonella Poona cases in young children were all genetically linked to the same outbreak. Overall, 32 confirmed cases have been reported in the EU: 30 in France, 1 in Belgium, 1 in Luxembourg. All patients were reported to have experienced the symptoms between August 2018 and February 2019.

An assessment by EFSA and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) indicates that the common source of the outbreak were three rice-based infant formula products made by a factory in Spain between August and October 2018 and marketed by an unnamed French company.

This is not the first time a health scare has rocked the baby milk formula industry. Back in 2008, for example, six children died and an estimated 300,000 fell ill after Chinese manufactures Sanlu added melamine to their infant milk powder products.

Speaking on the assessment, an EFSA spokesperson tells: “The companies involved as well as the relevant national competent authorities were very responsive. Control measures (e.g., official recalls, withdrawals and public warnings from the E-commerce operator) were implemented in all countries involved. Such measures should decrease the risk of new infections.”

The implementation of good manufacturing and hygienic procedures at production level as well as good hygienic practices at the consumer level can help in preventing such events, they further explain.

According to the assessment, the products were sold to other countries through e-commerce and wholesalers. In addition, the French company sold the products to four countries outside of Europe.

So far, all tests performed at the Spanish factory and on samples of the implicated batches have been negative for Salmonella Poona. This may be because Salmonella is typically difficult to detect in dried products and requires sampling and testing methods with a high degree of sensitivity, the assessment notes.

Regarding previous outbreaks, the spokesperson explains: “Based on the data reported to EFSA by the Member States during the period 2009–2017 in accordance with the Zoonoses Directive 2003/99/EC, during the period 2009–2017, three foodborne outbreaks due to Salmonella Poona were reported to EFSA by three EU countries. While in 2011, a large national outbreak due to Salmonella Poona and associated with the consumption of infant formula was investigated in Spain.”

A number of high-profile food contamination scares have plagued the wider food and beverage industry in recent times. Examples include the US outbreaks of E. coli in romaine lettuce and salmonella in a number of products ranging from eggs to breakfast cereal.

To prevent such contaminations, Walmart and Sam’s Club are urging lettuce and spinach suppliers to contribute to a blockchain database that can quickly and efficiently identify contamination. The suppliers have received a letter requesting that they trace their products all the way back to the farm using blockchain technology. Walmart says suppliers are expected to have all these systems in place by September this year.

A recent study noted that employing advanced genetic-tracing techniques and sharing the data produced in real time could limit the spread of bacteria – Bacillus cereus – which causes foodborne illness. As part of the study, researchers at Penn State University implemented whole-genome sequencing of a pathogen-outbreak investigation, following an outbreak of foodborne illnesses in New York in 2016.

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