Russia’s sanitary system under scrutiny after major outbreak of trichinellosis

By Vladislav Vorotnikov

- Last updated on GMT

Russia’s sanitary system under scrutiny after major outbreak of trichinellosis

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Nearly 60 people have been hospitalised in Tomsk Oblast, Russia, after consuming bear meat infected with trichinellosis, also known as fleshworm disease, the country’s state sanitary body Rospotrebnadzor has announced in a statement on its website on 31 October.

The outbreak was originally identified on 23 October, when the first patients sought medical help. At the same time, Rospotrebnadzor said it was likely that this was not the final count, as more people had purchased and consumed the infected meat, so given the incubation period of the deadly disease, the regulator has called on all consumers to go to hospital at the first signs of contamination.

In the village of Kataiga, in Tomsk Oblast, the disease was confirmed in 16 out of 20 people who had consumed the infected bear meat, with the condition of at least one patient assessed as severe, Rospotrebnadzor has reported.

The incident has focused public attention on the ongoing problem of Russia’s sanitary system, which is associated with a lack of state control in places where unauthorised trading takes place.

The problem of pop-up markets

A spokesperson for Rospotrebnadzor, who wished to remain anonymous, told GlobalMeatNews​ that the infected meat had not undergone any sanitary control, as it was sold at a ‘pop-up market’. The seller, who has already been identified, has claimed he was not even aware he was selling bear meat, thinking it might be beef, veal, or something else. It is not yet known what penalty he might face as a result.

Pop-up markets are a common problem for the sanitary authorities in Russia, a source in Rospotrebnadzor admitted. These are one-day markets, often held in parking lots of cooperating small businesses, which sell meat and disappear before any sanitary inspectors arrive.

“When meat is sold at the pop-up markets, and not in places of authorised trade, in 100% of cases it is violating sanitary rules,”​ Lyubov Burdienko, commercial director of the information-analytical agency EMEAT, told GlobalMeatNews​.

On 23 October, Rospotrebnadzor reported that up to 99% of meat products being sold in Leningrad Oblast, Russia were in violation of sanitary rules, although the regulator didn’t specify whether it was able to catch pop-up traders, or if those violations included retail sales.

Old habits die hard

It is believed that, to some extent, the existence of one-day meat markets is associated with traditional customs in Russia.

“Historically, we [Russian consumers] love to feel, smell and taste [meat products], and consumers can only get this opportunity in marketplaces, not in retailers, where the products are stored in packs. So, some consumers are old-fashioned and wish to go to the marketplaces and buy meat from private sellers,”​ Burdienko said.

“I don’t think they realise the violation of sanitary norms and what it can lead to. The emergence of retail outlets in the provinces and improvements in packaging should cut the number of those violations, although consumers will have to pay for those developments,”​ she added.

One-day markets are also believed to be an important sales channel for small- and medium-sized farmers, who find it hard to get access to the retail chains. 

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