Responding to a sharp increase in the number of illnesses linked to contaminated eggs, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has introduced tougher safety requirements for large-scale egg producers. The agency says that the new rules can eliminate nearly 80,000 illnesses and save 30 lives every year. The measures target the spread of Salmonella Enteritidis bacteria throughout egg producing facilities. The salmonella bacteria frequently contaminate eggs and the products in which they are used.
Since May 2010, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have identified a nationwide, four-fold increase in the number of Salmonella Enteritidis isolates reported by state and local public health laboratories and federal food regulatory laboratories. During late June and early July, CDC received reports of approximately 200 salmonella cases every week. Normally, CDC has received about 50 reports of Salmonella Enteritidis illness each week for the past five years. Many states have also reported the same pattern of increase since May.
The new food safety requirements apply to egg producers having 50,000 or more laying hens, which represents about 80 percent of production. Among other things, the new regulations require egg producers to adopt preventive measures and to use refrigeration during egg storage and transportation.
Salmonella associated with eggs poses a serious risk to public health. Infected individuals may suffer mild to severe gastrointestinal illness, short-term or chronic arthritis, and even death. The FDA and CDC expect that the new measures will reduce the number of Salmonella Enteritidis infections from eggs by nearly 60 percent.
Salmonella Enteritidis can be found inside eggs that appear normal. People typically become infected by eating contaminated eggs raw or undercooked. Eggs become contaminated on the farm, primarily by egg-laying hens that carry the infection.
“Preventing harm to consumers is our first priority,” said Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D., commissioner of food and drugs. “Today’s action will help prevent thousands of serious illnesses from Salmonella in eggs.”
The new rules requires smaller egg producers (those with fewer than 50,000 but at least 3,000 laying hens) whose shell eggs are not pasteurized or otherwise treated to comply with the regulations by July 9, 2012.
The rule does not apply to producers who sell eggs directly to consumers or have less than 3,000 hens.