Risk of trichinosis from locally produced raw sausages from Eastern Europe
Cases of trichinosis have become a rare occurrence in Germany as all pigs are examined for trichinae on slaughter. Isolated cases of disease which occurred recently were traced to the consumption of meat products from risk areas in Eastern Europe. In January 2007 three members of one family became ill after staying with relatives in Romania. Raw sausage and ham from a pig slaughtered at home were identified as the source of infection. More than 170 people recently contracted trichinosis in the Polish holiday region of west Pomerania. The outbreak was very likely caused by raw (Polish) sausage contaminated with trichinae which was only sold locally and has since been withdrawn from the market by the manufacturer. Up to now, there have been no reports of illness amongst German holiday-makers. These examples show that there may be a health risk when the regulations governing food production are not systematically complied with and meat containing trichinae is used in sausage production. "In Eastern European countries which have a higher risk of trichinosis, travellers can protect themselves by not eating any raw meat or products made from it like raw sausage or raw ham", recommends BfR President Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel. Tourists should not bring any raw sausage or raw ham back with them from these countries either.
Trichinosis (synonym trichinellosis) is a rare but dangerous foodborne disease. It is caused by nematode worms of the genus Trichinella. Humans can ingest the larvae in the muscle tissue from raw or inadequately cooked meat but also from raw sausages produced from the meat of infested pigs. In the intestinal mucosa the larvae mature into nematode worms and produce larvae there which invade muscle tissue. The initial signs of infection are fatigue, insomnia, diarrhoea and vomiting. After one to two weeks typical symptoms manifest like facial water retention (oedemas), myosclerosis and muscle soreness.
Testing of pigs for trichinae is, therefore, mandatory in the European Union. Domestic herds of pigs in Germany are free of trichinae aside from very rare isolated cases. By contrast, in other countries (like for instance Romania, Poland, Croatia, Serbia, Lithuania, Latvia) both domestic pigs and wild boars may be infected with these parasites.
Raw meat or products made from it like raw sausage or raw ham should not be consumed in these countries on precautionary grounds. They don’t belong in luggage either.
Trichina larvae in pork are destroyed when meat is frozen for more than 20 days at -15°C. The pieces should not be thicker than 15 centimetres to ensure the temperature is reached in the core as well. The larvae are also destroyed during boiling and roasting when the meat is sufficiently heated until its core colour is grey. Anyone who develops these symptoms should immediately consult a doctor and inform him that they have eaten these sausage products. The doctor can then establish whether the symptoms have been caused by trichinosis or whether this is merely a comparatively harmless case of a flu-like infection with similar symptoms.
A pamphlet for doctors (in German) contains further information on the identification, treatment and prevention of trichinosis. It can be downloaded from the BfR website (www.bfr.bund.de), from the section Publikationen/Merkblätter für Ärzte.