Private Notice Question. - Salmonella Outbreak.

asked the Minister for Health, in view of the grave concern caused by the latest outbreak of salmonella in County Donegal and to ensure that there is no repetition of the unnecessary panic and economic loss caused by the last reported incidence of salmonella in County Cork, if he will furnish all details concerning the Donegal outbreak, including the source and likely cause of the disease.

The outbreak of salmonella food poisoning in County Donegal is under investigation by the North-Western Health Board. The outbreak first came to the notice of the health board on 20 January 1989. Eleven cases in all have been reported to the local director of community care and five of these cases required hospitalisation. Seven of the cases were clustered in the New-towncunningham-Lifford-Raphoe area of County Donegal and the other cases are in South Donegal.

The health board immediately took steps to phage the strain of the salmonella, to trace its origin and to prevent any possible spread of the infection.

In seven of the 11 cases reported the infection has now been identified as salmonella enteriditis phage IV which is the same type as caused the recent outbreak of food poisoning in the Cork area. In five cases the people who became ill had bought food from a mobile take-away and chicken has been implicated in two of these cases. The health board are pursuing their inquiries to identify the source of the infection in the remaining cases.

My Department and the Department of Agriculture and Food are closely monitoring the situation at central level. As a reassurance to the general public I would like to reiterate assurances which I gave last month. The public need have no concern about the consumption of poultry or poultry products once these products are cooked thoroughly. They should purchase poultry from a reliable source and observe proper hygiene practices in preparation and cooking, particularly with regard to thawing out times and cooking at the correct temperatures. Once these practices are observed there need be no concern.

As I mentioned, food purchased from a mobile take-away van has been implicated in five of the cases reported. I have instituted measures to tighten up the food hygiene regulations in so far as they apply to mobile take-away operations and as from 1 March an annual licence will be required to operate mobile take-aways. A range of new provisions will apply including, in particular, a requirement that vulnerable foods will have to be stored at correct temperatures.

I thank the Minister for his most reassuring reply. Naturally I am delighted that he has taken on board the operation of certain types of cooked food outlets which seem to operate without any control. I should like to ask the Minister what steps he has taken to ensure that the code of practice which he issued on 7 December has been fully and adequately implemented. Is he satisfied that the cooking instructions embodied in that code of practice — which I believe are too general — are satisfactory?

I am satisfied that the health boards are carrying out their responsibility through their environmental health officers. On 25 November 1988 we communicated to the chief executive officer of each health board and the secretary-manager of each voluntary hospital and other health institutions a communication reiterating the basic hygiene measures necessary in handling poultry and other foods. I am satisfied that that is being done by the health boards.

As regards the new food hygiene regulations that are coming into effect for outlets such as the mobile take-aways involved in this case, one of the regulations will be that transport for food can be used only for food. It will also be necessary for all these take-aways to be registered; they will all be licensed. It will also be necessary for them to report where they are buying their supplies.

A final supplementary question and a brief one, please.

Is it a fact that when each case is reported a case history of the person involved is compiled? If not, would the Minister accept the proposal that such a case history should be compiled covering the previous week's consumption of food by the person, where it was purchased, whether it was raw or processed, or whether it was consumed inside or outside the home, so that immediate and conclusive progress could be made in discovering the source of the contamination.

We are having a rather long question.

When a case of salmonella poisoning comes to light, it is reported to the Director of Community Care, the director in each health board area investigates either the single case or a number of cases such as in this particular outbreak. The Director of Community Care makes every effort to trace the source of infection and deal with it. That has always been the practice. As the Deputy mentioned earlier, we communicated with the health boards at the end of November and reiterated what is good practice.

A very brief question.

Would the Minister now consider it desirable that a health warning be issued with all poultry and poultry products highlighting the need for proper cooking and proper defrosting? Could the regulations extend also to mobile ice cream parlours, for instance?

The latter is a separate question with regard to the food hygiene regulations. On the question of the basic hygiene measures in handling poultry and other foods, these have been fairly widely circulated. The health boards and environmental health officers provide facilities for advice to persons on the cooking of food. Certainly, our Department, with the health promotion unit, can look into the possibility of further information being given. For the benefit of Members of the House, I might go through the basic hygiene measures in regard to handling poultry and other foods. These are: to obey the "best before" and "eat by" labels which are on the food; to refrigerate chilled or frozen foods as soon as possible after purchase; to store eggs in a cool place, preferably under refrigeration and to separate raw and cooked foods when storing. The measures included the advice that eggs should be stored away from possible contaminants like raw meats and that cooked foods must be kept on a higher fridge shelf to avoid contamination from raw meat drips. People were advised to thoroughly wash their hands, chopping boards, knives etc. used with raw food, to thaw all frozen meat, particularly poultry, totally before cooking, that stocks of eggs and frozen foods should be consumed on a "first in, first out" basis and unnecessary handling of food avoided. It was recommended further that refrigerated food be stored below 10º celsius and that fridges be checked to ensure they operate effectively, that if hot food cannot be served immediatey, it should be kept above 63º Celsius, otherwise it should be cooled quickly to below 5º Celsius and stored in a fridge or freezer. The remaining recommendations are: avoid contamination within the kitchen after cooking is complete; wash the hands thoroughly before and after preparation of food and always after using the toilet; do not touch the mouth, nose or hair while dealing with food; avoid coughing or sneezing near foods; keep cuts or burns covered with waterproof dressings; wooden surfaces are not easily cleaned and should be avoided when handling fresh meat; preparation surfaces, utensils and containers should be cleaned regularly and cleaned between the preparation of different dishes; all vulnerable foods, for example, cream cakes and desserts should be refrigerated; poultry should always be cooked thoroughly; do not have cooked food at warm temperatures or let it linger in a cooking oven or on the top of a hot cooker; protect all foods against insect contamination; cracked or dirty eggs should not be used; egg dishes should be consumed as soon as possible after preparation and egg dishes should be stored in a fridge.

They were the recommendations that went out and, as the Deputy will appreciate, most of these are commonsense and are adhered to. I agree that from time to time it may be necessary to promote these regulations.

Is this going to be a regular slot?

This is very much part of the policy of our unit.

In conjunction with the ERAD campaign.

I can tell Deputy Mitchell that ice cream vans will be included in the regulations.