Health authorities are keeping a close watch on imported canned vegetables, fruits and meat products following the outbreak of a severe food-borne disease that has killed 19 persons in Europe and is spreading across the continent.
The Health Ministry’s Assistant Director Tilakaratne Haputantri who is in charge of food control said the Ministry along with the Customs, and other departments had strengthened surveillance as there was a possibility of the new strain of Escherichia coli (E.coli) entering the country.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines enterohaemorrhagic E.coli or (EHEC) as a bacterium commonly found in the gut of humans and animals and transmitted through consumption of contaminated water or food, such as raw vegetables, undercooked meat products and raw milk.
Samples of all food products imported would be sent to the Agriculture and Animal Production Departments for laboratory tests, the official said.
The Agriculture Department’s Director General Kamal Maankotte said people travelling to Europe, especially to Germany, should avoid eating raw salads and vegetables such as lettuce, tomatoes and cucumber.
“The outbreak is widely spreading through the European region through the consumption of raw vegetables. Sri Lanka does not import fresh vegetables from Europe but it is advisable to avoid canned vegetables imported from European countries,” he said.
The Animal Production Department’s Additional Director General A.D.M. Chandrasiri said animal quarantine officers would be deployed at Customs terminals to obtain samples of imported food items and these would be sent to the Medical Research Institute (MRI) for E.coli, Salmonella and bacterial contamination tests.
Dr. Chandrasiri said, at present meat products were imported from Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Britain and the United States. “If the tests prove that the products are contaminated, permission will not be granted for the release from the port. If the World Health Organization recommends halting import from the affected countries, we will do so,” he said.
Germany recorded the highest number of EHEC related deaths, 18 out of 19, with one death being reported from Sweden. More than 2,000 cases were reported from Austria, Britain, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and a few from the United States.
Symptoms include abdominal cramps, fever, vomiting and diarrhoea that may in some cases progress to bloody diarrhoea (haemorrhagic colitis).