Making Eggs Safer: A Dispatch From the FDA

By Michael Taylor
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A lot of attention—in the news and at FDA—has focused on the safety of fresh produce, but we are taking steps to make other foods that we regulate safer as well. Eggs are one of those foods.

As of last Friday, egg producers that have large operations—50,000 or more laying hens—are required to take a number of important steps to reduce Salmonella. These large producers account for about 80 percent of egg production in this country, so the new requirements will have a large public health impact.

In fact, we expect the rule to prevent about 79,000 cases of foodborne illness and 30 deaths per year caused by a specific strain of Salmonella called enteritidis. This pathogen can be particularly dangerous for infants and young children, pregnant women, older adults, and those whose immune systems may be weakened due to a chronic illness.

What's new about the new requirements is that they address egg production using modern testing and preventive measures, so they will help stop contamination
from occurring in the first place.

This rule is consistent with our focus on preventing food safety problems before they happen. We have been working for many years with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which shares the responsibility for egg safety, to require steps along the farm-to-table chain to limit the growth of Salmonella. What's new about the new requirements is that they address egg production using modern testing and preventive measures, so they will help stop contamination from occurring in the first place.

With this rule, large egg producers now have to implement a number of new steps, including buying chicks and young hens only from suppliers who monitor for Salmonella, testing poultry houses for the bacteria, and refrigerating eggs at 45 degrees F during storage and transportation if the eggs are not processed within 36 hours of being laid.

Egg producers with smaller-scale operations—those with 3,000 or more laying hens—also have to implement these requirements, but they will have an extra two years to comply. Very small producers, including those who sell all of their eggs directly to consumers, are not covered by the new requirements.

This new regulation is an important public health strategy, but consumers still need to safely handle and prepare eggs. For example, buy eggs that have been refrigerated, make sure eggs in the carton are clean and not cracked, and cook eggs and foods containing eggs thoroughly.

This rule is an important step in our prevention-oriented, risk-based strategy to reduce foodborne illness. It's hard to argue with the facts—and the facts show that Salmonella is a hazard we can and should address.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2010/07/making-eggs-safer-a-dispatch-from-the-fda/59462/