Salmonella Prevention Aim of New FDA Egg Rules

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) just announced a new egg safety regulation expected to annually prevent 79,000 cases of food borne illness and 30 deaths caused by consumption of eggs contaminated with <"">Salmonella enteritidis.

We have long been writing about the issues surrounding the vast array of food borne illnesses plaguing consumers in recent years and the problems with lax oversight and horrible conditions surrounding food product manufacturing and distribution. Yesterday, following recommendations from President Obama’s Food Safety Working Group and the horrendous conditions at Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) that led to a massive and historic salmonella outbreak and product recall, the administration ordered a variety of changes meant to strengthen this country’s food safety system.

One change is the new final rule requiring preventive measures during production of shell eggs in poultry houses that requires subsequent refrigeration during storage and transportation. Egg-associated illness caused by Salmonella is a serious public health problem causing mild to severe gastrointestinal illness, short term or chronic arthritis, and even death. This rule is expected to reduce Salmonella enteritidis infections from eggs by nearly 60 percent.

“Preventing harm to consumers is our first priority,” said Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D., Commissioner of Food and Drugs. “Today’s action will prevent thousands of serious illnesses from Salmonella in eggs,” she added.

The FDA explained that Salmonella enteritidis can be found inside eggs that appear perfectly normal. If these eggs are eaten raw or undercooked, the bacterium can cause illness. Eggs in the shell become contaminated on the farm, primarily because of infection in the laying hens.

The new rule requires that measures designed to prevent Salmonella enteritidis be adopted by virtually all egg producers with 3,000 or more laying hens whose shell eggs are not processed with a treatment, such as pasteurization, to ensure their safety. Producers with at least 3,000 but fewer than 50,000 laying hens must comply within 36 months after the rule’s publication; producers with 50,000 or more laying hens must be in compliance with within 12 months after its publication in the Federal Register.

Under the rule, egg producers must:

Buy chicks and young hens only from suppliers who monitor for Salmonella bacteria

Establish rodent, pest control, and biosecurity measures to prevent spread of bacteria throughout the farm by people and equipment

Conduct testing in the poultry house for Salmonella enteritidis. If tests find the bacterium, a representative sample of the eggs must be tested over an eight-week time period (four tests at two-week intervals); if any test is positive, the producer must further process the eggs to destroy the bacteria, or divert the eggs to a non-food use

Clean and disinfect poultry houses that have tested positive for Salmonella enteritidis

Refrigerate eggs at 45 degrees Fahrenheit during storage and transportation no later than 36 hours after the eggs are laid.

Egg producers whose eggs receive treatments such as pasteurization still must comply with the refrigeration requirements. Distributors, packers, or truckers holding or transporting shell eggs also must comply with refrigeration requirements. To ensure compliance, egg producers must maintain a written Salmonella enteritidis prevention plan and records documenting compliance. Producers (except those with less than 3000 hens or who sell all eggs directly to consumers) must register with the FDA. The FDA will develop guidance and enforcement plans to help egg producers comply with the rule.

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