Raw curry leaves linked to U.K. outbreak

Fresh Curry LeavesA foodborne illness outbreak earlier this year that sickened more than 400 people in northeast England has been linked to raw curry leaves.

The curry leaves were contaminated with multiple foodborne illness-causing strains of bacteria, including E. coli, Shigella and Salmonella. Of the more than 400 cases, 29 people had confirmed cases of Salmonella. Of those cases, 25 people had a strain of the Salmonella that hadn’t previously been found in the United Kingdom (U.K.), according to the Public Health England (PHE).

People sickened in the outbreak suffered from diarrhea and stomach cramps.

The outbreak was one of the biggest outbreaks associated with spices or herbs to hit the U.K., said Dr. Kirsty Foster, chair of the outbreak control team and consultant in health protection for PHE.

“However, herbs and spices are known to be potential sources of salmonella and other organisms, and have been reported in scientific literature as the source of infection in a number of outbreaks across the country,” Foster said. “But it is unclear whether there is widespread understanding among food handlers and the public about the potential for infection when using these products raw.”

Those who became ill had attended a three-day street food festival, which drew about 12,000 visitors. The implicated curry leaves had been used raw in chutney, a thick sauce that contains fruit, according to the BBC.

Officials have decided no formal action will be taken as clear guidance on the proper consumption of curry leaves isn’t currently available.

“Having carefully considered the facts we have decided against formal action in this case,” Newcastle City Council’s Directors of Regulation and Public Protection Stephen Savage said. “This decision, based on our enforcement policy, takes into account the lack of clear, official, advice about the use of curry leaves and the overall good standards of food hygiene at the festival.”

However, officials have recommended the U.K.’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) develop clear guidelines about the usage of the leaves along with other herbs. Savage also noted the council plans to work with the FSA and PHE to investigate the “contamination in curry leaves and other herbs imported from abroad”.

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