Foodborne diseases do not respect borders : Zoonotic pathogens and antimicrobial resistant bacteria in food products of animal origin illegally imported into the European Union
Globalisation, international trade and the ever-growing flow of goods and people enable animal diseases and zoonotic pathogens to travel worldwide. The risk of reintroducing previously eradicated animal diseases into the European Union is omnipresent as considerable amounts of food products of animal origin (POAO) from endemic countries are continuously imported legally and illegally into the EU. Additionally, these products may be potential vectors for emerging foodborne zoonoses, which are of public health concern due to their significant morbidity and mortality rates. This review summarises the legal background of veterinary public health measures and provides a critical overview on recent epidemiological studies, which analysed 1577 illegally imported POAO for major foodborne zoonotic pathogens and antimicrobial resistance in indicator bacteria. The samples rarely exceeded microbiological contamination levels of domestic products for Salmonella, Verotoxin-producing Escherichia coli and thermophilic Campylobacter spp. However, Listeria monocytogenes and Staphylococcus aureus were the most frequently detected pathogens in illegally imported meat and meat products (5% and 4.3%, respectively) and S. aureus in milk and milk products (7.4%). The most likely source of those zoonotic pathogens in illegally imported POAO are cross contamination and improper hygiene measures while handling, processing and storage. Moreover, uncommon and genetically distant variants including antimicrobial resistant foodborne pathogens such as methicillin-resistant S. aureus or extended-spectrum β-lactamase-producing Enterobacteriaceae were discovered. The introduction of POAO poses a largely underestimated threat, both to animal and public health.