Saturday, February 18, 2017

Bureaucrats and Eggs

Why do Americans refrigerate their eggs, while Europeans leave them out on the counter?
Mostly, it’s about washing. In the U.S., egg producers with 3,000 or more laying hens must wash their eggs. Methods include using soap, enzymes or chlorine.

The idea is to control salmonella, a potentially fatal bacteria that can cling to eggs. The Centers for Disease control estimates that salmonella causes about 1.2 million illnesses a year, resulting in 450 deaths — though not all of those cases are traced to eggs.

The bacteria can be passed through the porous shell to the inside of the egg from material on the outside, though in rarer cases it can infect the ovaries of a chicken and infect the eggs from the inside. . . .

But — and here is the big piece of the puzzle — washing the eggs also cleans off a thin, protective cuticle devised by nature to protect bacteria from getting inside the egg in the first place. (The cuticle also helps keep moisture in the egg.)

With the cuticle gone, it is essential — and, in the United States, the law — that eggs stay chilled from the moment they are washed until you are ready to cook them. Japan also standardized a system of egg washing and refrigeration after a serious salmonella outbreak in the 1990s.

In Europe and Britain, the opposite is true. European Union regulations prohibit the washing of eggs. The idea is that preserving the protective cuticle is more important than washing the gunk off.
Sometimes you have to wonder.


G. Verloren said...

Each approach makes sense for given parameters.

If salmonella is less common in the environments of European farms, and most contamination occurs after they've been transported elsewhere, then preserving the cuticle makes more sense than washing the eggs.

And if (as I suspect) the opposite is true in America, and eggs are more likely to be exposed to salmonella before they get shipped out to be sold, then washing them prior to transport and sale makes the most sense.

American farms operate at larger scales, and from what I understand with fewer restrictions on the sanitary conditions of the animals and their pens. By not better regulating the conditions in which our eggs are produced, it becomes necessary to require cleaning of the eggs prior to sale and consumption.

Anonymous said...

The salmonella is inside our US eggs. It contaminates our laying hens before they're born. It is a systemic problem that is deemed too expensive to fix because it would mean killing off all of our producing hens and replacing them with salmonella free hens. This was admitted many (15?) years ago when they first discovered the problem. It would have been relatively easily fixed then, but the businesses involved compromised with the washing instead of taking their losses. Imagine the money saved if we didn't have to refrigerate eggs.

pootrsox said...

Actually fewer than 10% of the hens in commercial egg farms have salmonella, (the number may be as low as 1%, based on a lot of information I was able to google).

And even infected hens lay mostly *non-infected* eggs.

Salmonella from inside eggs (as opposed to other sources, from incompletely washed eggs to meats, produce, etc etc etc) is actually pretty rare, and usually comes from food prepared in restaurants or similar settings where eggs are not properly treated (unrefrigerated, or mixed with never-refrigerated eggs and left sitting for some time).

In the 1980's, infected hens were indeed a problem. After a massive outbreak among people in Pennsylvania, the state instituted some pretty rigorous protocols. By the late '90's the percentage of infected hens had dropped from almost 40% to under 10%; it's since dropped far lower, and the USDept of Agriculture mandated the Pennsylvania program be instituted nationwide. (Again, I learned this from reading CDC and scientific reports obtained via google. I'm not an "egg-ologist"!)

BTW, those Pennsylvania egg farmers took horrendous losses while implementing the new protocols.

G. Verloren said...


I'm not sure you why mention such losses among egg farmers, though, since it seems like a foregone conclusion that if you let your chickens develop a deadly health risk, you're going to have to spend money eradicating the disease.

I mean, what other alternative was there? Let innocent people have their health be risked purely so that negligent farmers who failed to do enough to prevent the disease outbreak in the first place can avoid losing money?

pootrsox said...

It was in response to this statement from Mr/Ms Anonymous: "but the businesses involved compromised with the washing instead of taking their losses"

In fact, as you pointed out, of course they took losses :)

G. Verloren said...

Oh, missed that bit somehow.

That said, they absolutely didn't take the full losses due to them, and I agree with the Anon that they got away with a shady compromise that treated the symptoms but didn't actually cure the underlying problem.