Newspaper blasts ‘serious food control problems’ in Styria

There were serious deficiencies in food controls last year in Styria, the free Styrian weekly newspaper Woche claimed yesterday (Tues).Woche’s report comes in the wake of news about Styrian firm Prolactal, which produced the deadly Quargel cheese last year resulting in the deaths of 10 people in Austria and Germany.Woche said lack of personnel had resulted in provincial authorities’ failure to engage in at least 1,000 planned control operations last year.In response, provincial safety director Odo Feenstra said three members of the 18-member control team had been on sick leave for a long time but measures had been taken to strengthen it.Provincial food supervisor Gernot Handler said there had been 4,928 control operations and 1,942 surveys in 2009 rather than the planned 5,916 control operations and 2,991 surveys.Feenstra ruled out any link between the reduced number of control operations last year and illnesses caused by Quargel cheese contaminated by listeria bacteria. He said the reduction in control operations had lowered the number of low-risk targets rather than high-risk targets examined.Failure in warning and control systems was the cause of listeria contamination of eight brands of its Quargel cheese, Styrian dairy firm Prolactal said this past Sunday.The firm said a scarab or type of beetle (Dungkäfer or aphodius fimetarius) had been the carrier of the disease. Beetles had climbed through a window left open and contaminated machines used to make the cheese.Twelve people were hospitalised with listeria infections last week, nine of them ill after eating the deadly Quargel cheese.The Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety (AGES) said: “The date of infection in all cases was before the recall of the cheese on 24 January.”The agency added that there had been nine confirmed cases of listeria infections with one death caused by the cheese this year. There were 12 confirmed cases and four deaths in 2009. There were also 33 non-cheese related listeria cases last year, it said.Graz public prosecutor’s office announced the week before last that it would investigate the deadly Prolactal cheese case.Consumption of food with excessive concentrations of listeria can lead to meningitis, encephalitis and blood-poisoning.