Meat testing in Iceland shows relatively low contamination levels

Meat testing in Iceland shows relatively low contamination levels

by Sue Jones
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Official screening for pathogens in meat in Iceland in 2020 did not find Salmonella or Campylobacter but did detect E. coli.

The Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST), the Ministry of Industry and Innovation and local health inspectors took 407 samples for microbiological analysis.

Samples were of domestic and foreign origin and were mostly fresh but some frozen beef was tested for E. coli.

In total, 156 pork and 157 chicken samples were tested for Salmonella and 71 chicken samples for Campylobacter. Officials said the negative results indicated that prevention and control actions were effective.

In Iceland, the number of confirmed Salmonella infections was 51 in 2019 and 33 in 2020. For Campylobacter, 136 cases were recorded in 2019 and 95 in 2020.

E. coli results
A total of 91 burgers, ground beef — also called minced beef — and three ground lamb samples were analyzed for Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC). They came from restaurants, meat processing plants and shops.

Ground meat and burgers are more likely to be more contaminated than steaks because of the way they are produced from more than one animal and microorganisms are spread throughout and to the center of ground meat.

During screening in 2018, STEC genes were found in 17 of 148 samples of beef and 45 of 148 lamb samples. In 2019, the proportion was 32 of 146 sheep meat samples, but no tests on beef were done. In 2019, 26 STEC patients were reported but this fell to only four in 2020.

In 2020, 24 of the 91 beef samples were positive for one or more of the genes Shiga toxin 1 (Stx1), stx2 or eae as were two of the three lamb samples. E. coli strains carrying pathogenic genes were cultured from 10 samples of ground beef.

E. coli O26 genes were found in 10 of 91 beef samples and E. coli O157 in four samples while E. coli O103 genes were present in a lamb sample. However, E. coli O157 was only isolated in one sample of ground beef.

Officials said results show that STEC in meat needs to be monitored regularly and preventive measures in slaughterhouses and processing need to be improved to reduce the likelihood of this pathogen product combination. They added cleanliness of animals was important when being transported to the slaughterhouse.

Consumers can reduce the risk of Salmonella, Campylobacter or E. coli infection by cooking meat correctly before consumption and preventing cross-contamination during food handling and storage.

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