Last year over 500 million eggs were recalled after two farms in Iowa were associated with an outbreak of Salmonella. Are eggs safe again? Were they ever unsafe?
Our intestines are full of bacteria. Same goes for chickens. The overwhelming majority of these bacteria are actually beneficial and help with digestion or protect against bad bacteria. For chickens, Salmonella can be among these helpful (or at least harmless) bacteria. The type of Salmonella involved in recent outbreak is called Salmonella enteritidis. It's somewhat special in that it can grow in the ovaries of the chicken and on very rare occassions, it can be packaged inside an egg. It does nothing to the chicken, but unfortunately can cause diarrhea in humans.
How common is it to get Salmonellosis from eggs? Between 1985 and 1998, there were approximately 1,700 cases of Salmonellosis from eggs each year. As a point of perspective, 45 billion shell eggs are eaten every year in the United States.
But as we've said before, one foodborne illness is too many. Starting in July, the Food and Drug Administration, which is the federal agency in charge of egg inspection, implemented a new program where egg farms have to routinely test for Salmonella enteriditis and if they find it, they must come up with ways to get rid of it. The FDA estimates that the number of salmonellosis cases associated with eggs will be cut in half with this program.
It's important to remember that no food is 100% risk free. This goes for animal products, produce and even processed foods. That is why proper handling and preparation of food is key to preventing foodborne illnesses. When it comes to eggs, it's pretty straightforward: "keep eggs refrigerated, cook eggs until yolks are firm, and cook foods containing eggs thoroughly" (www.fda.gov).
In short, eggs remain an excellent source of nutrients and when prepared properly, are a perfectly safe food as well.