The Amateur Food Detective

The Amateur Food Detective
Bluebird Acres Farm in Friendship, NY

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

What the Shell Is Going On With Eggs?

Unless you're foraging in the forest for your breakfast and have no access to any media whatsoever, you probably have heard about the latest egg recall.

The specific illness concerned is Salmonella Enteritidis. If you aren't sure what the symptoms are, let me tell you: you will have a fever, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea anywhere from 12 to 72 hours of ingesting this bacterium. It can last 4 to 7 days. Like other illnesses that cause severe diarrhea, the infected person may require hospitalization. Young children, those with compromised immune systems, and the elderly may suffer far worse than a few days sitting next to a toilet bowl. The illness can spread from the intestines to the blood stream, spreading the bacterium throughout the body. The worst cases may end in death, so this is a serious matter.

With this particular strain of bacteria, you can not wash the eggshells and wash away the Salmonella. It is inside the egg. It begins within the laying chicken's ovaries. An infected hen may lay normal, healthy eggs while only occasionally laying an infected egg. (http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dbmd/diseaseinfo/salment_g.htm) Cooking the egg thoroughly and consuming it immediately reduces the risk of contamination, although people who have contaminated eggs in their possession are encouraged to return or toss them.

I looked over the inspection paperwork for both Quality Egg LLC and Hillandale Farms, both companies where the outbreak was found to have occurred. There were numerous problems found on both these farms, including excessive amounts of flies and maggots at one farm, and insufficient rodent control at the other. There were also birds' nests discovered at the site of one farm, another violation of code. I'm going out on a limb here to say I doubt these are uncommon incidences at chicken farms. I imagine these things happen frequently. The question is: are the companies working on preventing these situations? Is the FDA making sure farms are well monitored? I don't know.

What I do know is that another possible cause for the Salmonella is chicken feed. Guess what their feed is made of? Bone meal! That's right, your friendly neighborhood herbivores have been forced into becoming omnivores. I can already feel Mother Nature fuming. So what does that mean for us? When we mess with the natural order of the world, we make big changes. You can't chop off a tree's roots without damaging the tree.

Whether it was the feed that contaminated the eggs or the poor living conditions the chickens endured, I don't know. But no matter what, this won't be the last we hear of salmonella.