Eggs imported from Ukraine, where there is no mandatory inoculation of chickens against salmonella, were sold in Israel for four months before the Agriculture Ministry discovered that Ukrainian eggs tainted with salmonella were being sold.
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The ministry only inspected the eggs amid a sharp rise in food-borne illnesses among Israeli children, while one adult died of salmonella. The inspectors discovered eggs containing salmonella, which can cause abdominal cramps, diarrhea, vomiting and fever.
The Agriculture Ministry disclosed its findings last week. In the United States alone, the bacterium results in 19,000 hospitalizations a year, the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta says.
The Health Ministry said the salmonella found in the most recent batch of eggs from Ukraine was not of the strain that causes illness in humans. But previous batches from Ukraine were not tested.
The ministry reminded Israelis that they should cook eggs well, store them in the refrigerator and wash their hands with soap after handling eggs to prevent salmonella from spreading.
At the end of August, the Agriculture Ministry approved duty-free imports of eggs from Ukraine in an effort to overcome an Israeli egg shortage thought to have stemmed from a miscalculation of quotas stipulated for egg farmers.
Turkey, which in the past had been the main source of egg imports in times of shortage, was not a potential source due to an outbreak of bird flu, so the ministry looked to Ukraine.
The country’s leading food retailers, including supermarket chains Super-Sol, Mega, Tiv Ta’am and Yohananof, began to stock Ukrainian eggs. The only clue that the eggs were not produced in Israel was the UA country code on the eggs and cartons.
The Ukrainian imports continued until very recently, when the ministry’s testing revealed salmonella; last Wednesday the agriculture and health ministries called on the public not to consume Ukrainian-produced eggs. The eggs are no longer on store shelves but may still be in Israelis’ refrigerators.
The Agriculture Ministry conducted the inspection after 15 babies were hospitalized with salmonella and after a 50-year-old man died from it. The Health Ministry had issued a warning in November about the rise of salmonella cases, but the presence of salmonella in Ukrainian eggs had not yet been detected.
In 2015, Israel imported more than 300 million eggs, about 15% of all eggs consumed in Israel.