European Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner David Byrne has expressed his concern about the wide variations in measures to combat E.coli contamination between EU Member States.
Commenting on a report by the EU's Food and Veterinary Office, Byrne said that while there were several excellent examples of good practices, there was still much to be done in some Member States to effectively combat contamination.
The FVO's studied the controls over verocytotoxigenic Escherichia coli (VTEC) in Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Portugal and Sweden over the last year, and showed that all were aware of the risks that the bacteria posed to public health. The FVO focused primarily on plants handling red meat, meat products and milk and milk products.
"VTEC and other food-borne pathogens are a major health concern," said Byrne. "The new legislation we have proposed on food hygiene and zoonotic diseases offers the right framework for implementing improvements in the way they are controlled, but in the meantime national authorities are well-advised to look at the best practices identified and to start applying them wherever possible."
The approach followed in monitoring and controlling outbreaks in both the animal and human populations varies considerably from country to country, the FVO's report said. As with other food-borne pathogens, the real prevalence of VTEC in humans appeared to be generally under-estimated.
The FVO in particular stressed the need for co-ordinated research into the prevalence of VTEC at the different stages of the food production chain and recommended joint action by the European Commission and Member States to develop guidelines for a more consistent approach to the detection, notification, prevention, control and investigation of VTEC outbreaks in the animal and human populations.
There is currently no specific EU legislation prescribing what kind of controls national authorities should implement with respect to E.coli contamination in the food chain, although the European Commission is working on improving the current legislative rules to enhance the protection of consumer safety.