Salmonella Fears Are Changing Consumer Egg Habits

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With the egg recall widening and more reports of illness spreading, consumers are changing the way they buy and cook eggs. For most, it is a positive change that is sure to make homes and families safer from the risk of salmonella poisoning.

Overall, the recalled eggs, which total about a half of a billion nationwide, are still a small fraction of the total amount of eggs produced in the United States. In 2009, more than 90 billion were sold.

Egg Recall Leading to Safer Consumer Practices

The egg recall has been a boon to business for local farmers. Demand has significantly increased for eggs at farmers markets, co-operatives, and roadside stands. Consumers are also seeking out smaller egg producers, particularly those who sell organic or free-range eggs.

“People are realizing that it’s not the safest decision to buy eggs shipped from huge factory farms in the Midwest, where traceability and accountability is limited,” said Elizabeth Howe, regional manager of the Pacific Coast Farmer’s Market Association. “At the farmers’ market, you can shake the hand of the farmer who collected your egg that morning and I think that is much more reassuring.”

Read: Buying Organic Does Not Protect Against Food Borne Illness

Consumers should remember that even smaller farms have the potential to have contaminated products. According to the FDA, salmonella bacteria can get on the outside of the egg shells from fecal matter or inside the egg if the hen is infected. Rodents and tainted feed also cause infection. These conditions are not unique to a large factory farm.

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Small and large grocery stores alike are posting signs to ensure their customers that their eggs are safe.

Read: FDA Egg Recall Investigation Focuses on Supplier Practices

Consumers in restaurants are still enjoying their breakfast favorites, but are asking more questions and ordering less undercooked eggs. Drake Diner in Des Moines says because they get most of their eggs from a supplier in nearby Cedar Falls, customers have asked servers about the brand names of the eggs used and whether they are safe. Manager Shannon Vilmain has not noticed a decline for overall orders of egg-based dishes, however.

Families at home are also heading the USDA’s warnings about undercooked eggs, which carry a higher risk for foodborne illness. Eggs should be heated to at least 155 degrees until the yoks are firm and there are no visible signs of liquid remaining.

People are also buying more pasteurized egg products, which cost more, but pasteurization kills bacteria, including most salmonella.

Read: Egg Recall a Small Part of a Bigger Picture

One dangerous trend to note: some people are “stocking up” on extra eggs from markets, buying two or three dozen at a time. Unless retained in their original packaging with product numbers and Julian dates documented, should the recall expand, consumers will not know if their eggs are affected.

Also, the shelf life of eggs is only about 3 to 5 weeks when refrigerated between 37 and 40 degrees. If eggs are not stored properly, they have the potential to cause illness. But even when storage guidelines are followed, eggs may still carry risks - Salmonella enteritidis has been known to survive freezing.

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