What's New -- CSPI Press Releases

For Release: May 14, 1997

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Threat of Contaminated Eggs Grows as Agencies Scramble

CSPI: Nationwide spread of food poisoning bacteria in eggs causes sickness or death in thousands of Americans a year

Over the past 15 years, food poisoning from eggs has grown from a rare occurrence to the most common cause of outbreaks. According to a report released today by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), "Salmonella enteritidis (SE) bacteria in eggs are causing hundreds, and possibly thousands, of food-poisoning deaths each year."

The nonprofit, health-advocacy group also filed a formal petition calling on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to require a warning notice on egg cartons. The notice would state: "Caution: Eggs may contain illness-causing bacteria. Do not eat raw. Cook eggs until the yolk is firm."

CSPI announced the petition and released a 22-page report, Scrambled Eggs, at a press conference Wednesday morning in Washington. The report documents the woeful governmental response in the ten years since SE was first identified in eggs. The group also outlined how the disease can best be brought under control.

"Eggs used to be safe," Caroline Smith DeWaal, director of CSPI's Food Safety Program, said, "but now they are the leading cause of food poisoning outbreaks in the country. This is the consequence of a decade of government neglect and Congressional cave-ins to industry pressure."

"It is time to label egg cartons," she said, "to warn consumers that the eggs may be contaminated with harmful bacteria. Until new programs assure that shell eggs are safe, consumers need to be reminded of the risk every time they bring home a carton of eggs."

According to government data cited by CSPI, SE infection causes up to a million illnesses each year. Sufferers experience flu-like symptoms, such as diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, and fever and chills. Some people can have more serious complications, such as rheumatoid arthritis, meningitis, kidney or heart disease, and death. Elderly residents of nursing homes are especially at risk.

In April 1992, USDA began a voluntary pilot program to control SE in Pennsylvania. The program, which had requirements ranging from regular on-farm testing to effective refrigeration, proved successful. But in 1995, Congress cut all funding for the program, thereby preventing USDA from expanding it nationwide.

According to Elizabeth Dahl, staff attorney for CSPI's Food Safety Program, "Egg industry lobbyists were responsible for killing federal support for the program. Now, with nearly half the nation's egg-laying flocks contaminated with Salmonella, Congress must act on behalf of consumers, not producers."

"Thousands of Americans have paid a terrible price for government's failure to ensure safe eggs," said CSPI Executive Director Michael Jacobson. "We hope that our petition -- together with the Clinton Administration's new food-safety initiative -- will enable Americans to trust that eggs are once again safe."

CSPI, besides calling for the warning labels on egg cartons and creation of control programs modeled after the successful Pennsylvania Egg Quality Assurance Program, offered the following advice to consumers:

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), based in Washington, D.C., is a nonprofit health-advocacy organization with nearly one million members. CSPI focuses on nutrition, food safety, and alcohol policy. It was a major proponent of last year's improvements in meat and poultry inspection. It fought for -- and won -- the law that requires "Nutrition Facts" labels on all food packages. CSPI publishes the Nutrition Action Healthletter and accepts no government or industry funding.

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