FDA and other US Government Agency Recommendations
The first follows the recommendations of the FDA which can basically be summed up as: collect them quick, wash them off, get them cold, keep them cold. According to the USDA website;
- The Egg Safety Rule went into effect July 9, 2010 for egg producers with 50,000 or more laying hens. Under the requirements of this rule, egg producers are required to implement safety standards to control risks associated with pests, rodents, and other hazards; to purchase chicks and hens from suppliers who control for Salmonella in their flocks; and to satisfy testing, cleaning, and refrigeration provisions to prevent SE.
- These facilities must register with FDA and are required to maintain written plans summarizing their safety practices. (USDA)
In fact, all shell eggs not treated to prevent salmonella must carry a warning label on the carton with safe handling instructions like the one in the picture. The label must read, SAFE HANDLING INSTRUCTIONS: To prevent illness from bacteria: Keep eggs refrigerated, cook eggs until yolks are firm, and cook foods containing eggs thoroughly.
Commercial egg producers in the US wash eggs with various detergents designed to removed soiling, bacteria, and other harmful substances, but his practice also removes the bloom on the egg shell. As a result, the bloom must be replaced artificially and is often done with mineral oil or vegetable oils.
European FSA Recommendations
The second follows the recommendations of the European FSA (Food Safety Administration) which can be summed up as: collect them, leave the bloom alone (i.e. don’t wash them), keep them at room temp. According to EU egg marketing regulations, washing is actually prohibited, as the egg bloom is considered an effective barrier against bacterial migration through the egg shell. The EU recognizes that by removing the bloom and keeping eggs in refrigerated cases in the supermarket the chance for temperature fluctuations and the development of moisture on the surface of the egg actually increases the chance that salmonella can invade the egg.
Those are certainly two very different approaches so lets look at this a little further.
Where did the two practices come from?
It was not that long ago that in the US people collected their eggs on the farm and followed the European FSA approach. So what changed? Sometime in the early 60’s, technological innovations caused “large commercial farms” of around 400 chickens to suddenly bloom into commercial enterprises with hundreds of thousands and even millions of chickens.
- “There are currently about 245 egg companies with flocks of 75,000 or more.
- Of these 245 companies, 60 have at least one million laying hens, and 12 have more than 5 million hens.” (Mercola)
Before I go further, let me say that I am not against mass food production. But I do believe that, as with most things in life, there are positives and negatives to mass food production. In order to mass produce food, the cost aspect eliminates many of the practices that we as homesteaders and small farmers utilize. This in turn results in the overcrowding of animals and poor hygiene practices requiring different food handling procedures to keep the food safe for consumption. Similarly, mass crop production results in the need to use pesticides that require a thorough washing (and depending on how concerned you are with pesticides, a washing with a special produce wash to help strip the chemicals from the produce). So with these things and the distant removal of people from food production there is a different mindset on how food should be handled. Hence the need to wash eggs, replace their bloom with an artificial bloom, and refrigerate the eggs. The one upside to refrigeration is that the eggs will last longer, 30-45 days vs 7-10 days with unrefrigerated eggs. However, this also means that eggs do not need to reach you in as timely a manner. Most of the eggs you buy in the supermarket are far older than those you buy from a local farm or farmer’s market. All of these practices are meant to safeguard against the risk of salmonella. So how are we doing in this regard? According to some statistics from the FDA, “The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimates that 142,000 illnesses each year are caused by consuming eggs contaminated withSalmonella.” Hmmm……let’s see how that stacks up against Europe.
Salmonella and Eggs
Salmonella is not introduced to eggs solely through contamination after it is laid. If this were in fact the case, simply evaluating both handling practices would reveal which was more effective. When eggs move through the reproductive track of a chicken, the egg can actually pick up salmonella from an infected chicken. That egg would then be infected and no amount of chemical washing would remove bacteria already present inside the shell. Chickens can be vaccinated against salmonella but in the US it is recommended but not required, therefore only about 30% of producers vaccinate their chickens, due in large part to perceived cost. British law requires that all commercial layers be vaccinated against salmonella, thereby removing the option. As we see from earlier, there is a significant difference in salmonella infection rates in the US vs Britain.
I want to present you with both sides of the argument so that you can make an educated decision about what you think is best for you and your family. At Lone Star Farmstead we gather our eggs 2-3 times a day, we do not wash them (but we do remove excessive soiling with a dry, soft cloth), and we keep them in a spare refrigerator located outside on our porch that holds our eggs and goat’s milk. If we ran out of space in the fridge I would have no worries about keeping the eggs at room temperature though. As was noted earlier, if you do place them in the fridge, then they must stay refrigerated as allowing them to come to room temperature will cause the egg to sweat and will allow bacteria to be introduced into the egg. Remember that in addition to good handling practices, you need to make sure that you cook your chicken fully to avoid salmonella. Any poultry or eggs left un-refrigerated for more than 2 hours should be thrown out according to the FDA. Safe egg handling and safe raw chicken handling must go hand in hand to prevent salmonella in your household. For a fun little reminder to cook you raw chicken, here is a PSA from the FDA.
And for more safe egg and food handling check out the FDA site.
Have a great day and God bless!