FDA Enacts Salmonella Egg Rules

The Center for Infectious Disease Research & Policy (CIDRAP) announced federal rules meant to reduce Salmonella Enteritidis (SE) contamination in eggs from large-scale producers. The rules take effect today, with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) predicting that 79,000 illnesses, per year, will be prevented. We have long been noting that <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/practice_areas/food_poisoning">Salmonella is the most prevalent foodborne pathogen in this country.

The rules have been in preparation for years and mandate egg producers add preventative measures—refrigeration during transport and storage, for example—and effect operations with over 50,000 laying hens, said CIDRAP, which accounts for most—80 percent—U.S. egg producers, according to a statement issued by the FDA.

Producers with less than 50,000 but more than 3,000 laying hens and whose eggs are not pasteurized or treated to reduce pathogens are subject to the new rules, but not for another two years, wrote CIDRAP. Those producers, added CIDRAP, with less 3,000 layers or that sell all their eggs directly to consumers are exempt.

Of note, when laying hens are infected with SE, their eggs, which appear normal, can harbor the pathogen, according to the FDA.

Salmonella is an organism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Infection with Salmonella can result in the organism getting into the bloodstream and producing more severe illnesses such as arterial infections (i.e., infected aneurysms), endocarditis, and arthritis. Salmonella poisoning can lead to Reiter’s Syndrome, a difficult-to-treat reactive arthritis characterized by severe joint pain, irritation of the eyes, and painful urination.

The FDA said that the new regulations are expected to reduce SE cases from eggs by close to 60 percent and are also expected to prevent about 30 deaths each year. The FDA also noted that under the new rule, large producers who don’t treat their eggs, such as with pasteurization, must:

• Purchase chicks and hens from suppliers who monitor their birds for Salmonella.

• Establish rodent- and pest-control and biosecurity measures to prevent people and equipment from spreading bacteria.

• Test for SE in poultry houses and, if found, follow with biweekly testing of eggs for eight weeks. If the tests are positive, eggs must be further processed to destroy bacteria or be transferred to nonfood use. Clean and disinfect all poultry houses that test positive for SE.

• Refrigerate eggs at 45 degrees Fahrenheit during storage and transport no later than 36 hours after being laid; this applies to producers who use pasteurization and who transport or hold eggs.

• Maintain a written SE prevention plan and keep records of compliance with the regulations.

The FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (the USDA is responsible for certain meat products, but not eggs, while the FDA has oversight over poultry eggs) began looking into controlling SE in eggs in the 1990s, according to the announcement, said CIDRAP. Measures included refrigeration requirements but did not prevent original contamination. Craig Hedberg, PhD, a foodborne disease expert at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, said, “I think the rules are reasonable, but I don’t think that you can treat uncooked shell eggs as ready-to-eat foods…. There will always be a residual risk of contamination,” quoted CIDRAP. The FDA said consumers should continue to cook eggs and foods containing eggs thoroughly.

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