Eggs Contaminated with Salmonella Have Put Consumers At Risk
Across the Nation.
A type of Salmonella known as enteritidis causes an estimated 200,000 to one million human
cases of salmonellosis each year. Contaminated eggs cause at least 80 percent of these
Between 1980 and 1995, the number of reported illnesses in the U.S. from Salmonella
enteritidis (SE) increased by more than five times.
SE causes a third of all food poisoning outbreaks for which the food source is known.
SE caused more reported deaths between 1988 and 1992 than any other foodborne pathogen.
Hundreds or even thousands of people die from eating SE-tainted eggs each year.
SE infection causes flu-like symptoms, such as diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, fever, and
chills, and can have more serious complications, such as rheumatoid arthritis, meningitis,
kidney or heart disease, and death. Children, the elderly, and the immuno-compromised are
Raw or Undercooked Eggs Can Contain Harmful SE Bacteria
Proper cooking of eggs kills the SE bacteria that may be inside the eggs. However, too many
consumers don't know that common-egg preparation practices could make them sick. Some
high-risk practices include:
serving eggs "sunny side up," lightly poached, soft-boiled, or any other style where the yolk is
eating cookie dough or cake batter that contains raw eggs;
using raw eggs in salad dressing, such as Caesar salad or homemade mayonnaise.
The Federal Government Has Failed to Protect Consumers from the
Risk of SE.
Four government agencies are responsible for regulating eggs and the egg industry, including
the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and three different agencies under the U.S.
Department of Agriculture (USDA). None of these agencies have taken the necessary steps to
keep eggs safe. Any one of these steps would help:
--Requiring egg producers to test their flocks for SE
--Preventing eggs from SE-positive flocks from being sold without pasteurization
--Requiring eggs to be refrigerated
--Requiring warning labels on egg cartons
While shell eggs are continuously inspected for quality, they are inspected for safety only once
every ten years, on average.
USDA finally began an SE control program in 1991. However, the program didn't require all
egg producers to test their farms for the SE bacteria. Egg producers only had to clean up their
farms if a traceback investigation proved that their flocks had already caused food poisonings.
The traceback investigations were time-consuming and difficult. Only about 20 a year were
In 1992, USDA, the Pennsylvania government, and Pennsylvania egg producers began a
voluntary pilot program that included regular on-farm testing of flocks for SE. Even though
the program showed progress in reducing SE contamination, Congress cut federal funding for
that program and prohibited USDA employees from working on it.
All Egg Producers Should Be Required to Implement On-farm SE
Control Programs Like the Pennsylvania Egg Quality Assurance
The pilot program in Pennsylvania survived despite the cut in federal funding and is now known
as the Pennsylvania Egg Quality Assurance Program. The program reduced the number of
contaminated flocks from 38 percent to 8 percent in five years. The number of human illnesses
from SE in the market area for Pennsylvania eggs also showed a decrease. FDA should require all
egg producers to implement control programs that include these features of the Pennsylvania
Chicks for layer flocks should be obtained from SE-negative breeder flocks.
Regular testing of manure and eggs for SE should be required.
Testing should be subject to monitoring by FDA.
When samples are positive, eggs from those flocks should be diverted to pasteurization plants
and should not be sold in supermarkets.
Eggs should be kept refrigerated at all times.
CSPI's Additional Recommendations:
FDA should mandate that the following label be placed on the tops of egg cartons: "Caution:
Eggs may contain illness-causing bacteria. Do not eat raw. Cook until yolk is firm." This
label will help consumers protect themselves from SE.
Shell egg plants should be inspected for safety at least several times per year.
Food safety responsibility for eggs should be consolidated under the clearly defined authority
of one of the two food safety agencies, either FSIS or FDA.