The number of salmonella cases reported to the health authorities so far this month has surpassed that in previous years, peaking at 20 cases in July alone.

Figures supplied to The Sunday Times of Malta by the health authorities showed that so far this month, 20 cases of the food poisoning infection have been reported, up from 11 last year. Since the beginning of the year,  67 cases have been brought to the authorities’ attention.

Salmonella is a type of food poisoning caused by various bacteria and is often more common in summer. The infection is contracted when food contaminated with the bacteria is consumed, with young children, older adults and those with impaired immune systems being more susceptible to severe infection.

Symptoms include diarrhoea, fever and abdominal cramps and usually develop 12 to 72 hours after the infection is contracted. It usually lasts four to seven days.

Last month, the same number of cases as in June 2017 was reported. The figures show, however, that when comparing the total number of cases for June and July to those for the same period in previous years, there was a notable increase. In 2016, for instance, there were 19 salmonella cases reported to the health authorities in the two summer months under review.

READ: Salmonella one of 250 microbes that can cause foodborne illness  

In the previous year, the figure was even lower, at 15, and while it was higher in 2014, with 29 cases reported, the number for 2018 remained the highest.

The Superintendent of Public Health, Charmaine Gauci, said that while it was true the number of salmonella cases reported across Europe was increasing, in Malta there had been no outbreaks in recent months despite there having been more reports.

While noting the increase, Dr Gauci said that the figures were not worrying, both in light of the trends in Europe as well as the fact that there had been no reported outbreaks .

She added that it was also normal for the numbers to increase in the summer months, as a result of the rise in temperatures or more food being undercooked. She also pointed out that as European trends were suggesting an increase, the authorities were being “more vigilant on inspections” while also stepping up the awareness campaign on the preparation of food at home.

Just this week, the health authorities confirmed that salmonella had been found in eggs from St Joseph Farm during sampling by the veterinary authorities as part of the Veterinary National Control programme for salmonella. Eggs packed by this farm have since been recalled, with the public being advised not to consume them.

The Superintendent of Public Health warned that food that has been listed as recalled should not be consumed, while the general handling of eggs should also be done with caution.

Eggs, she said, should always be cooked until both the yolk and the white are firm, while egg dishes should be cooked to an internal temperature of 71°C or hotter.

The eggs used in sauces or any other items that contain raw or lightly-cooked eggs should be pasteurised, Dr Gauci said.

Hands, and any implements that come in direct contact with raw eggs, should always be thoroughly washed.

claire.caruana@timesofmalta.com