Around 700,000 eggs from Dutch and Belgian farms implicated in a contamination scare have been distributed to Britain, rather than the 21,000 first estimated, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has said.
The insecticide Fipronil, found in the eggs, can be harmful to humans if consumed in large doses.
Egg-containing products including salads, quiches and sandwiches have been recalled from Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Asda and Morrison’s, although the FSA said some of the recalled products will have already been consumed.
Although the number of affected eggs which have entered the country is 33 times higher than was originally estimated, the FSA stressed there is no need for panic.
FSA chairwoman Heather Hancock said: “I’m confident that acting quickly is the right thing to do.
”The number of eggs involved is small in proportion to the number of eggs we eat, and it is very unlikely that there is a risk to public health.
“Based on the available evidence there is no need for people to change the way they consume or cook eggs. However, Fipronil is not legally allowed for use near food-producing animals and it shouldn’t be there.”
Fipronil is unauthorised for use in food-producing animals, the FSA added in a statement, which it put out following an investigation into the problem.
Fresh eggs are not believed to be affected, but Aldi and Lidl stores in Germany, along with Dutch supermarkets, have already taken millions of eggs off their shelves.
Aldi said it was a “purely precautionary” measure.
The scare began in the Netherlands and Belgium and it is thought that disinfectant used in products on chicken farms is at fault.
Belgian authorities admitted that a farm alerted them to possible contamination in June – several weeks before the scare became public knowledge – but they thought it was an isolated case.
Britain produces 85% of the eggs it consumes but still imports almost two billion annually, the FSA added.
Reported adverse effects from consumption of Fipronil include sweating, nausea, vomiting, head and stomach pain, dizziness and seizures, according to the US National Pesticide Information Centre.
Approximately 180 Dutch farms, including egg farms, are believed to have used a product containing Fipronil to treat red mite in poultry houses. Fipronil is banned for use around food-producing animals in the EU.
Fipronil is classed by the World Health Organisation as a Class II moderately hazardous pesticide.
The affected products are processed foods in which eggs are one of the ingredients, mainly sandwich fillings and other chilled foods.
Many of the eggs involved were mixed with other eggs which have not come from affected farms so Fipronil residues will be highly diluted, according to the FSA.
“While in some European countries eggs containing Fipronil residues have been sold as fresh eggs, in the UK this is not the case.
“Many of the eggs involved were mixed with other eggs which have not come from affected farms so Fipronil residues will be highly diluted.
“It is likely that the number of eggs that have come to the UK is closer to 700,000 than the 21,000 we previously believed had been imported.
“However, as this represents 0.007% of the eggs we consume in the UK every year, it remains the case that it is very unlikely that there is any risk to public health from consuming these foods.”
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The statement added: “We are reminding food businesses of their legal responsibilities which include informing the FSA or FSS and relevant local authorities immediately if they have any reason to believe that a food which they have imported, produced, processed, or distributed does not comply with food safety requirements.”
The British Eggs Industry Council urged consumers to ensure they are buying British produce as tests carried out on farms in England and Wales have found no trace of Fipronil.
“British egg producers have reiterated the need for consumers and food producers to look for British Lion eggs and egg products, following the FSA announcement that some processed foods are being withdrawn from sale as they may have been made with non-UK eggs contaminated with Fipronil.
“Shell eggs on sale to consumers are not affected and the FSA says that there is no need for people to change the way they consume or cook eggs.
“All major UK retailers stock British Lion shell eggs and tests have shown that there is no risk from British eggs.”
List of products so far recalled with sell-by dates
By Sainsbury’s Ham and Egg Salad – 240g – August 9-14
By Sainsbury’s Potato and Egg Salad – 300g – August 9-14
Morrison’s Potato and Egg Salad – 250g – August 13
Morrisons Egg and Cress Sandwich – Sold in Morrisons Cafe only – August 11
Morrisons Cafe Sandwich Selection – Sold in Morrisons Cafe only – August 11
Waitrose Free Range Egg Mayonnaise – 240g – August 13
Waitrose Free Range Reduced Fat Egg Mayonnaise – 170g – August 14
Waitrose Free Range Egg and Bacon – 170g – August 14
Waitrose Free Range Egg and Bacon – 170g – August 16
Waitrose Free Range Egg Mayonnaise – 240g – August 16
Asda Baby potato and free range egg salad – N/A – August 9-14
Asda Spinach and free range egg snack pot – N/A – August 9-14
Asda FTG Ham and Cheddar ploughman’s salad bowl – N/A – Aug 9-13