Officials raise concerns over safety of Polish poultry products

A recently published report of an audit of poultry meat processing facilities in Poland has revealed some deficiencies that could impact on food safety.

Official controls over the production of poultry meat and products in Poland are organized on a risk basis, implemented using comprehensive procedures and guidance, and comply with legislation. These were among the positive comments made in a report following an audit by the Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety (DG SANTE) of the European Commission (EC).

Following up a previous audit that identified some failings, the latest inspection was carried out in March and April of 2019.

Auditors raised concerns over structural and hygiene requirements at two of the eight facilities they visited. These deficiencies appeared not to have been detected by Polish officials, and had not been corrected.

In the report, staffing and remuneration were highlighted as issues that should be addressed by the Polish authorities. In particular, officials receive low salaries, according to the auditors. Furthermore, they found that authorized veterinarians receive production-related remuneration.

The auditors expressed their opinion that these factors undermine the correct functioning of the official control system in Poland, and impact on the enforcement of the relevant EU legislation.

An increasing number of food safety alerts linked to Salmonella in poultry have been issued in Poland, according to the report. This has led to the establishment of official sampling procedures in poultry slaughterhouses. The auditors noted that these systems have been revealing higher rates of Salmonella detection than the companies’ own checking systems.

Finally, EU inspectors also called for a special labeling system to be halted. Some years ago, the Polish food safety authority approved a system that allows small poultry slaughterhouses to identify poultry meat products that can only be sold within the country. This is done by the addition of a special label. As this is not in line with EU legislation, a previous DG SANTE audit called for use of this label to be halted. The latest audit found that this system is still in place.

Poland’s response to recommendations

In its response to the auditors’ recommendations, the food safety agency in Poland defended its use of the label. It stated the system provides consumers with the information needed for their purchasing decisions. Furthermore, it state, the EC did not question the measure when the Polish agriculture ministry notified it in 2004.

On the number of veterinary inspectors and their remuneration, applications have been made to raise funding and to increase staffing in order to strengthen the supervision of animal slaughter.

Furthermore, the agency reports, new measures were introduced in 2019 to improve Salmonella testing at Polish slaughterhouses.

In 2016, a multinational Salmonella outbreak was linked to a single egg packing plant in Poland. Cases were identified in seven EU countries, and suspected in one more. It took several months to identify the plant, and distribution was subsequently suspended from the facility.

Salmonella causes one in three foodborne disease outbreaks in Europe

In 2018, salmonellosis was the second most commonly reported gastrointestinal infection in humans in the European Union (EU). Salmonella bacteria were linked to almost 92,000 reported cases. The number of cases has stabilized over the last five years. With more than 246,000 cases, Campylobacter was the pathogen most often linked to these infections.

A total of 5,146 foodborne outbreaks were reported in the EU during that year, according to the reports from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) published last month. More than 48,000 people were affected.

Two in three of the 1,581 outbreaks caused by Salmonella in food or water occurred in just three countries — Poland (9,651 individual cases), Spain (8,730), and Slovakia (7,222). Most of these cases were linked to the consumption of contaminated eggs or egg products.

Of all food samples tested, the highest number of Salmonella-positive samples were detected in poultry meat and other meat intended to be cooked before consumption.

Less than 1% of table eggs tested in 13 EU countries were positive for Salmonella. These were reported by Poland and seven other states. Polish egg products were among the 3.5% of the samples that were contaminated with the bacteria in this product group.

At 1.3%, Poland reported the highest incidence of Salmonella-positive poultry flocks (chicken breeders, layers and broilers, as well as breeding and fattening turkeys). Other countries reported less than 1% of positive flocks, and several states found none.

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