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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

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FDA Improves Egg Safety

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The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced a regulation to help make eggs safer to eat.

The regulation will reduce the number of illnesses caused by eggs contaminated with the bacterium Salmonella Enteritidis (SE).

The regulation, released to the public on July 7, 2009, requires the egg industry to take specific preventive measures to keep eggs safe during their production, storage and transport. Egg producers will also be required to register with FDA and to maintain a prevention plan and records to show they are following the regulation.

FDA took this action because SE is a major cause of foodborne illness in the United States. Eating raw or undercooked eggs is an important source of SE infections in people. FDA estimates that 142,000 illnesses each year are caused by consuming eggs contaminated with SE.

FDA first proposed the regulation on September 22, 2004. The agency has held three public meetings and opened two comment periods to ensure public participation in the rule-making process.

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About Salmonella Enteritidis (SE)

SE infections can be very serious, even life-threatening, especially to the very young, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems. Infected people may experience

  • diarrhea
  • fever
  • abdominal cramps
  • headache
  • nausea
  • vomiting

Some infected people may suffer from severe illness, arthritis, or even death.

Eggs can become contaminated on the farm because a laying hen can become infected with SE and pass the bacteria into the egg before it is laid. If the egg is not refrigerated, the bacteria can grow inside the uncracked, whole egg.

FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture carried out a series of egg safety efforts during the 1990s. These efforts focused on refrigeration to limit the growth of bacteria that may be inside an egg. Although these efforts made it harder for the bacteria to grow, they did not prevent the eggs from becoming contaminated initially on the farm. Through the measures spelled out in the new regulation, which address controlling the bacteria on the farm, SE will be reduced in the poultry house and consequently in the eggs themselves.

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How Consumers Are Affected

The regulation means that eggs will be safer for people to eat.

The regulation will reduce the risk that eggs from an estimated 3,300 farms that produce most of the U.S. egg supply will be contaminated with SE. As a result, an estimated 79,000 illnesses and 30 deaths will be avoided each year—that’s a reduction of nearly 60 percent in egg-related illnesses from SE.

In addition to the new safety measures being taken by industry, consumers can reduce their risk of foodborne illness by following a few simple steps:

  • Only buy eggs if they are sold from a refrigerator or refrigerated case.
  • Open the carton and make sure that the eggs are clean and the shells are not cracked.
  • Refrigerate the eggs promptly after purchase.
  • Cook eggs until yolks are firm, and cook foods containing eggs thoroughly.

For more information on buying, storing, handling and cooking eggs—or foods that contain them—please see Playing it Safe With Eggs: What Consumers Need to Know.

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Some Producers Exempt

The regulation does not apply to producers with fewer than 3,000 laying hens. These producers account for less than 1 percent of U.S. eggs. The regulation also does not apply to producers who sell all of their eggs directly to consumers.

Producers who treat their eggs to destroy SE, such as by in-shell pasteurization, or who process their eggs into egg products, need to comply only with the parts of the regulation addressing refrigeration and registration. FDA requires all producers who must comply with the regulation to do so between 12 and 36 months after issuance of the regulation, depending on the size of the operation.

This article appears on FDA's Consumer Updates page, which features the latest on all FDA-regulated products.

Date Posted: July 7, 2009

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