PEOPLE in the North West region were today being warned to cook eggs properly before eating them after two outbreaks of salmonella food poisoning which have already claimed one life.

The unusual strain of salmonella, enteritidis PT 14b, has made more than 150 people ill since early September locally and in the South East. One person infected by the bug died in Cheshire over the weekend.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) last night named the two possible sources for the outbreak as Patisserie Madeira, in Lambeth, south London, and another site in Nantwich, Cheshire.

No one from the businesses was available to comment last night.

"The businesses are co-operating fully with our investigations," a spokesman said.

The FSA has issued a hygiene alert reminding food businesses to use pasteurised eggs in products that are ready to eat or only lightly cooked before eating.

The Cheshire bakery was using ordinary eggs in products that were not cooked. It had now stopped this practice, said the FSA.

Salmonella in samples from the London patisserie had indicated a risk of cross contamination.

Both businesses supplied products to a number of outlets in their region.

Experts are still working to positively identify the sources of the outbreaks. But a common factor in both was the use and handling of ordinary eggs by local food firms.

Dr Roger Skinner, head of the FSA's Microbiological Safety Division, said: "Over 150 people have been taken ill and one person has died. It is possible that there is a link between these cases and the use or handling of eggs.

"Food businesses need to remember that they should use pasteurised egg in their raw or lightly cooked products, particularly if their products may be eaten by vulnerable groups such as the elderly or pregnant women. They could be putting people at risk if they do not follow that advice.

"Good practice in the handling and use of ordinary eggs helps avoid cross-contamination. It is also important to remember that the salmonella bug can be easily killed if eggs are properly cooked before use."

The FSE warning will be a haunting reminder to Edwina Currie of the great salmonella in eggs debacle in the 1980s.

In 1988 Mrs Currie, then a junior health minister, said most egg production in Britain was infected with salmonella. Her comments sparked a public outcry and two weeks later she was forced to resign.

By early 1989 the link between eggs and salmonella poisoning was proved beyond doubt. Two million chickens were slaughtered, but this had little effect.

Today, one in every 750 eggs bought by the public is believed to be salmonella infected.

People can avoid being poisoned by the bacterium by cooking eggs thoroughly and avoiding cross-contamination by washing knives, cutting surfaces and plates.