The European Commission has proposed a limit for Salmonella in reptile meat.
The EC said considering the potential significant health risk posed by the possible presence of Salmonella in reptile meat, food safety criteria should be set for the products.
Currently, regulation (EC) No 2073/2005, which sets such criteria to define the acceptability of a product placed on the market, does not cover reptile meat. The draft regulation states Salmonella must not be detected in a 25 gram sample and it applies to products placed on the market during shelf-life.
Reptile meat refers to the edible parts from farmed reptiles, either unprocessed or processed, belonging to the species American alligator, freshwater crocodile, Nile crocodile, saltwater crocodile, ocellated lizard, reticulated python, Burmese python and Chinese softshell turtle.
The food safety criterion should oblige businesses to take measures at stages of reptile meat production to reduce the presence of all serotypes of Salmonella with public health significance, according to draft regulation.
Production of reptile meat in the European Union is limited, but data from Eurostat’s database for statistics on international trade in goods shows imports from third countries of fresh, chilled or frozen meat and edible offal of reptiles have shown an upward trend in the past decade with an increase of more than 50 percent in the quantity imported during 2007 to 2017 and an average yearly import into the EU of nearly 100 tons.
In 2007, a European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) scientific opinion on public health risks due to consumption of reptile meat found reptiles are well-known reservoirs for Salmonella species. The opinion concludes Salmonella is the most relevant bacterial hazard that may occur and it constitutes a significant public health risk, given the high contamination rate in fresh and frozen crocodilian meat.
The EN/ISO 6579-1 standard is the horizontal method for detection of Salmonella in food and will be the analytical reference method to verify compliance of a Salmonella in reptile meat food safety criterion.
A study published in 2009 in the International Journal of Food Microbiology found the microbiological risk from eating reptile meat comes from the presence of pathogenic bacteria, especially Salmonella, and also Shigella, E. coli, Yersinia enterolitica, Campylobacter, Clostridium and Staphylococcus aureus.
People in some countries use turtles, crocodiles, snakes and lizards as a source of protein. Imports can come from South Africa, the United States and Zimbabwe and go primarily to Belgium, France, Germany, Netherlands and the United Kingdom.
Many reptiles, including those kept as pets, also carry Salmonella in their gut without showing signs of infection and shed the bacteria in their feces. People can become infected by handling reptiles.
From 2006 to 2014, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention investigated 15 multistate Salmonella outbreaks linked to turtles; 921 people were sickened, 156 hospitalized, and an infant died.