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19 June 2013, 11:29
An outbreak of salmonella, that caused more than 400 people visiting a Newcastle food festival to fall ill, has been blamed on uncooked curry leaves.
Health experts from Public Health England (PHE) and Newcastle City Council say the outbreak of illness associated with the Street Spice Festival, held in Newcastle between 28 February and 2 March 2013 was caused by the use of uncooked curry leaves (pictured), contaminated with several different bacteria.
Of the 413 people who reported symptoms of diarrhoea and vomiting after attending the event, 29 were confirmed as having various strains of salmonella, of which 25 had a strain of salmonella that had not previously been identified in human or food samples in the United Kingdom.
Findings from further laboratory analysis suggested that in addition to salmonella, other organisms may have caused illness including E.coli and Shigella.
Some of the affected people were found to have more than one of these infections at the same time.
Dr Kirsty Foster, chair of the outbreak control team and consultant in health protection with PHE said:
"This was one of the largest outbreaks of gastro-intestinal illness associated with herbs or spices in the country.
In addition, it was the first time one of the strains of Salmonella was detected in the UK.
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.
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.
That is why we have reported our findings to the Food Standards Agency, recommending that advice is developed for the food industry and the public about the use of raw curry leaves.
While this is being developed our advice to the public is to cook curry leaves thoroughly if they are to be used in recipes and to be aware of the risk of infection if using them raw."
Symptoms of salmonella include diarrhoea, stomach cramps and sometimes vomiting and fever.
Most people recover without treatment, but occasionally the illness can become more serious and require hospital admission.