A survey of poultry farms detected salmonella in almost one in four flocks of chicken raised for meat in the European Union, the European Food Safety Authority said Tuesday.
It said its survey found that 23.7 percent of commercial flocks tested positive for the bacteria shortly before slaughter. It urged governments to tackle the disease, one of the most common causes of food poisoning in humans.
Infection rates ranged widely from country to country, it said, from none in Sweden to the maximum, 68.2 percent, in Hungary. Poland, Portugal and Spain also reported high rates.
The country with the largest number of chicken farms and chicken flocks, France, had a relatively low rate of 6.2 percent.
But the EU executive wants these levels to fall to 2 percent or less and plans to set targets for governments to reduce salmonella in live hens _ with steeper cuts demanded for countries where the disease is more common.
The food agency said mandatory targets will likely be set for only two types of salmonella. Nations with high rates of other varieties should act urgently to reduce infections, it said.
Most salmonella outbreaks come from eating eggs, but the food authority said broiler meat is also an important cause even though cooking should kill the bacteria.
"Thorough cooking of the broiler meat and strict kitchen hygiene would prevent or reduce the risk posed," it said.
The agency tested 7,440 large flocks -_ with at least 5,000 birds each - from October 2005 to September 2006 in 23 EU nations plus Norway. It is a follow-up to a 2006 study to find out how common salmonella is in flocks of hens laying eggs.
Some 176,400 people were infected with salmonella in 2005 - roughly 38 in every 100,000. The disease causes diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps and in some cases requires hospitalization. It can be deadly if infected people are not treated right away with antibiotics.
High risk groups - children, old people and pregnant women - are advised to avoid partly cooked eggs in food such as mayonnaise.