Salmonella egg contamination could result in slaughter of 200,000 birds

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Victoria's chief health officer Brett Sutton explains the recall

Authorities could order the destruction of hundreds of thousands chickens at a Victorian poultry farm, after the detection of a rare strain of salmonella at the property sparked a massive supermarket egg recall.

Key points:

  • Authorities may need to kill all chickens on the farm to contain the spread of salmonella
  • It could take the egg farm up to two years to recover if all chickens are culled
  • An all-farm cull could increase the price of eggs by up to 40 cents a dozen

Eggs were recalled from supermarket shelves across Victoria, New South Wales, Tasmania, South Australia and the ACT on Thursday after authorities linked five salmonella-related illnesses with the farm.

The egg recall prompted renewed warnings for consumers to be aware that raw eggs can contain salmonella, a bacteria which is killed when the egg is properly cooked.

Complete list of recalled eggs:

  • Woolworths 12 Cage Free Eggs 700g
  • Victorian Fresh Barn Laid Eggs 600g
  • Victorian Fresh Barn Laid Eggs 700g
  • Victorian Fresh Barn Laid Eggs 800g
  • Loddon Valley Barn Laid 600g
  • Affected eggs have best-before dates of March 20, March 23, March 27, March 30, April 3, April 6, April 10, April 14, April 17, April 20, April 24, April 27, April 29

Agriculture Victoria placed the farm where the potentially contaminated eggs were processed, Bridgewater Poultry in central Victoria, under strict quarantine measures to prevent the rare salmonella enteritidis strain from spreading.

Victoria’s chief vet Dr Charles Milne said the next steps would likely involve the death of a significant number of chickens.

“We immediately put in place quarantine notices to prevent birds or machinery from leaving the premises, and also a food safety notice to ensure no eggs went into the food chain,” he said.

“The farm will [now] be managed in line with an industry-owned response plan and that will almost certainly involve the slaughter of the birds.”

Dr Milne said three of nine sheds on the property were likely to be affected by the outbreak.

“There’s a number of sheds of the premises, and to date a single shed has been positively confirmed with another two sheds likely to be confirmed in the next couple of days,” he said.

He said as soon as salmonella was identified in a shed, all the birds inside would need to be destroyed.

The Victorian Farmers Federation’s eggs group president, Brian Ahmed, said if authorities believed the salmonella had spread throughout the farm, they would likely have to kill all the birds at the property.

“I mean I know it sounds extreme, but they would have to cull all that farm just to make sure it doesn’t go anywhere else,” he said.

But he said the farm was “well organised” and it was likely between 150,000 and 200,000 birds would be affected.

Mr Ahmed said in the event that all chickens were culled, it could take the business up to two years to get back into operation, affecting the supply of eggs to the industry.

“No other farm would have the capacity to just automatically flick a switch and produce that amount of eggs overnight, so it would have quite a heavy impact on the supply not just here in Victoria, but around Australia,” he said.

Mr Ahmed said the farm represented roughly 10 per cent of the Victorian egg industry and the contamination scare would likely cause egg prices to by up to 40 cents a dozen.

He said vets would visit the farm on Monday to better gauge the extent of the spread of the infection.

New South Wales link investigated

In a statement, the company said it was working with authorities to determine whether the salmonella was introduced to the farm “through the purchase of interstate eggs”.

New South Wales authorities are investigating potential links to an outbreak of the same strain of salmonella in Sydney earlier this year.

Dr Milne said this was the most significant example of an outbreak of the strain, which has previously affected some small farms.

“This is the first real major commercial farm … it is unusual, most salmonellas are surface contaminates of eggs, but this particular strain can pass the disease vertically inside the egg,” he said.

“New South Wales is currently investigating outbreaks on five smaller poultry farms and there is a potential links between one of those farms and the premises in Victoria which we’re investigating.

“The link is the potential movement of eggs, we are following that up … to ensure that it is exactly the same as that that was seen in New South Wales.”