US: FDA improves egg safety

08-07-2009 | | |
US: FDA improves egg safety

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced a regulation that aims at reducing the number of illnesses caused by eggs contaminated with Salmonella enteritidis (SE).

The regulation, released to the public on 7 July, 2009, requires the egg industry to take specific preventive measures to keep eggs safe during their production, storage and transport. Egg producers will also be required to register with FDA and to maintain a prevention plan and records to show they are following the regulation.
The FDA took this action because SE is a major cause of foodborne illness in the US, it says. Eating raw or undercooked eggs is an important source of SE infections in people. The FDA estimates that 142,000 illnesses each year are caused by consuming eggs contaminated with SE.

The FDA first proposed the regulation on 22 September, 2004. The agency has held 3 public meetings and opened 2 comment periods to ensure public participation in the rule-making process.

The FDA and the US Department of Agriculture carried out a series of egg safety efforts during the 1990s. These efforts focused on refrigeration to limit the growth of bacteria that may be inside an egg. Although these efforts made it harder for the bacteria to grow, they did not prevent the eggs from becoming contaminated initially on the farm. Through the measures spelled out in the new regulation, which address controlling the bacteria on the farm, SE will be reduced in the poultry house and consequently in the eggs themselves.

How consumers are affected

The regulation will reduce the risk that eggs from an estimated 3,300 farms that produce most of the US egg supply will be contaminated with SE. As a result, an estimated 79,000 illnesses and 30 deaths will be avoided each year, which is a reduction of nearly 60% in egg-related illnesses from SE.

Some producers exempt

The regulation does not apply to producers with fewer than 3,000 laying hens. These producers account for less than 1% of US eggs. The regulation also does not apply to producers who sell all of their eggs directly to consumers.

Producers who treat their eggs to destroy SE, such as by in-shell pasteurization, or who process their eggs into egg products, need to comply only with the parts of the regulation addressing refrigeration and registration. FDA requires all producers who must comply with the regulation to do so between 12 and 36 months after issuance of the regulation, depending on the size of the operation.

Natalie Berkhout Freelance journalist