EU court rules on Lithuanian Salmonella in chicken case

A European court has ruled on a case involving how national authorities handle detection of Salmonella types in chicken meat that are not listed in EU regulation.

The request for a ruling was made in a case between Romega UAB, a poultry meat wholesaler, and the State Food and Veterinary Service (VMVT) in Lithuania regarding the decision by VMVT to fine Romega and order the firm to withdraw poultry because of findings of certain Salmonella types.

Proceedings at the European Court of Justice were a step in the action before the national court in Lithuania.

Incident background and different perspectives
In October 2018, after detection of Salmonella Kentucky in fresh poultry meat imported from Poland, Lithuanian authorities inspected Romega. During the visit, officials found this Salmonella type in fresh poultry meat that Romega had placed on the market. In early April 2019, the authority fined Romega €540 ($568).

In mid-April 2019, the Lithuanian authority, after having identified Salmonella Infantis in fresh poultry meat sold by Romega, prohibited the firm from continuing to place such meat in commerce and ordered it to withdraw and destroy products already sent to market.

Romega brought an action before the Regional Administrative Court in Vilnius seeking annulment of the fine and the later decision. This was dismissed in July 2019 but Romega appealed to the Supreme Administrative Court of Lithuania.

The company cited EU regulation that only prohibits the presence in fresh poultry meat of Salmonella Enteritidis and Salmonella Typhimurium. According to Romega, the finding of other Salmonella types such as Kentucky or Infantis does not enable such products to be seen as unsafe food.

VMVT believed it could undertake further sampling and analyses for other Salmonella types not covered in the relevant legislation. The fact that the two Salmonella types listed have not been detected does not automatically mean products are safe to eat.

The referring court in Lithuania said it was uncertain about the scope of the authorities’ discretion to check for the presence in fresh poultry meat of Salmonella types or pathogenic microorganisms other than those listed in EU rules.

Action if suspicion that food is unsafe
Lithuanian, Czech and Italian governments and the EU Commission said that although Salmonella Kentucky and Infantis appear to be less prevalent than Salmonella Typhimurium and Enteritidis, adverse health effects cannot be ruled out.

European regulation states that an authority can do further sampling and analyses to detect other microorganisms either as a verification of processes, for food suspected of being unsafe, or for risk analysis.

Although the microbiological criteria in Regulation 2073/2005 apply only to certain pathogens, the law states an authority does not have to restrict itself, when analyzing food, to verifying whether only those microorganisms are present.

The EU Court of Justice found the rules must be interpreted as meaning that a national authority may judge fresh poultry meat to be unsafe if pathogenic microorganisms other than the two Salmonella types listed in EU regulation have been detected.

The judgement added it was for the national court to determine if the presence of Salmonella Kentucky and Infantis can justify the measures adopted by the authority as appropriate.

VMVT director, Mantas Staškevičius, said there are many Salmonella serotypes that pose a risk to human health, but not all of them are listed in EU legislation.

“Although the company has tried to appeal against the fact that the regulation does not list the bacteria found in the meat they imported, the EU court has clarified that only safe food must reach consumers. We have not and will not compromise on food safety. This decision of the court confirmed that we are right,” he said.

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