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International Journal of Food Microbiology
Vol. 209, 2015, Pages: 13–19

Characterization of illegal food items and identification of foodborne pathogens brought into the European Union via two major German airports

Janine Beutlich, Jens Andre Hammerl, Bernd Appel, Karsten Nöckler, Reiner Helmuth, Kristine Jöst, Marie-Luise Ludwig, Christine Hanke, Dirk Bechtold, Anne Mayer-Scholl

Department of Biological Safety, Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, Max-Dohrn-Str. 8-10, 10589 Berlin, Germany.


Foods of animal origin brought illegally from third party countries into the European Community pose a risk for the introduction of diseases. This can lead to animal disease outbreaks with significant economic and social costs and subsequent severe trade restrictions. Further, disease outbreaks in humans due to illegally imported foods of animal origin have been described, yet, there are very few studies examining the potential human health impact. Passenger baggage is the most likely route by which illegal products enter a country. Therefore, the volume and geographic origin of foods of animal origin introduced illegally into Germany via the Frankfurt International Airport and Berlin-Schönefeld Airport by passenger luggage were characterized. Further, the occurrence of foodborne zoonotic bacteria such as Salmonella spp., Listeria spp., Campylobacter spp., Yersinia spp., Verocytotoxin-producing Escherichia coli (VTEC) and Brucella spp. and the microbial quality of the foods were analysed by total bacterial count. Between 2012 and 2013, a total of 663 food items were seized from 296 passengers arriving in Germany from 35 different departure countries. The majority of confiscates (51%) originated from Turkey and Russia. A selection of 474 samples was subjected to microbiological analyses. Twenty-three food products tested positive for at least one of the pathogens analysed. The majority of the contaminated foods were meat (33%) or meat products (42%), and milk products (21%). Considering that only a small fraction of arriving passengers is subjected to airport custom controls and only a small number of confiscated foods could be analysed during this study, further investigations are needed to understand the public health risks posed by illegally introduced food items.

Keywords: Travel; Illegal imports; Airport customs; Foodborne pathogens; Europe; Food.

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