Tallegg struggles to control salmonella

  • 2005-06-08
  • By Ksenia Repson
TALLINN - The Veterinary and Food Board on June 3 hit a major poultry producer with a fine for failing to bring an outbreak of salmonella under control and ordered it to close part of its production facilities.

The board has ordered Tallegg, Estonia's largest producer of poultry, to pay a 10,000 kroon (643 euro) fine for its inability to control the infection and disinfect damaged areas. The board also ordered Tallegg to shut down a hatchery to stem the spread of salmonella, which has reportedly afflicted the producer for months.

Olle Horm, Tallegg chairman, was summoned to the Harjumaa regional veterinary center, to explain the situation at the poultry factory.

Vladimir Vahesaar, head of the veterinary center, said, "Since February we've issued Tallegg dozens of warnings and precepts and had meetings with the management of the firm, but there still are problems with salmonella in that company."

The salmonella outbreak is the largest in years, according to Veterinary and Food Board officials. Health Protection Inspectorate data shows that the number of salmonella infections has increased in the first quarter of 2005 's from 79 cases compared with 24 in the first quarter of 2004. However, the rise is not correlated to the outbreak at Tallegg, veterinary officials said.

Still, Tallegg is likely to loss millions of kroons in revenue as a result of the infection and the hatchery's closing.

Veterinary board director Ago Partel told The Baltic Times that the fine is reasonable in comparison with the losses the company will incur. He said Tallegg was doing its best to control the outbreak.

Horm said that the fine had been paid and that all efforts were being made to clean the hatching centers where the outbreak occurred. Horm was not able to specify when the incubators would be entirely disinfected, though he said he hopes that all traces of salmonella would disappear in two months.

"The disease breeders have been located, and the infection will not leave the house 's ever," said Horm.

No poisoned chickens were killed during the infection period, he explained, since cooking annihilates the harmful bacteria. "Bacteria die or are destroyed in temperatures higher than 70 degrees, so the [infected] poultry was cooked into sausages and patties 's it is impossible to catch salmonella from eating cooked chicken," said Horm, adding that the company is forbidden to sell fresh or frozen chicken.

Indeed, consumers have noticed a sharp increase in the varieties of precooked chicken on store shelves in recent weeks.

Salmonella is a dangerous bacteria that causes severe stomach pain, diarrhea and vomiting. The outbreak at the country's largest poultry comes at a time when Estonians are besieged with an advertising campaign to buy local chicken.

Hundreds of advertising placards have been pasted across Tallinn, calling on consumers to eat Estonian chicken. Tallegg's ad includes two legs in the shape of heart with a slogan "Armastus Eesti moodi" - "Love 's Estonian style."

Horm said he realized that the battle to restore consumers' faith will be an uphill one. "We just have to work hard everyday," he said. "There have been some alterations in stuff, and we have to expanse capital investments to renovate our purification systems. I have to admit that the company's loss exceeds a six-digit number level, although it is early to speak of it in exact numbers."

Iivi Saar, marketing director for the Selver grocery store chain, was quoted as saying that she did not think Tallegg's production has suffered greatly among customers, and there have been no troubles or drawbacks with delivery.

According to data published by the Estonian Institute of Economic Research, in the first quarter of 2005, 40 percent of Estonians preferred Tallegg's poultry, while Rakvere Lihakombinaat (Rakvere Meat Factory) was the most popular, with 56 percent support.

Olle Horm is CEO of both factories.

Within the EU, only Finland and Sweden have successfully managed to keep salmonella under control, and the EU has awarded those countries with special "salmonella-free status."