The Low Down on the Egg Recall and Salmonella

I see today that the ever expanding egg recall has reached Washington State. To date 380 million eggs have been recalled as part of the current concern over people being sick from Salmonella. Here's the  lowdown on Salmonella bacteria;

This comes via the "You Can Prevent Food borne Illness" publication available through WSU extension.

Two similar groups of bacteria, Salmonella and Campylobacter, are normally found in warm blooded animals such as cattle, poultry,and pigs. These bacteria may be present in food products that come from these animals— such as raw meat, poultry, eggs, or unpasteurized dairy products. Salmonella also may be present on fresh fruits and vegetables.

Rinse all fresh fruits, including melons and vegetables, thoroughly under running water before preparing or eating them. It is true this will not remove all microorganisms, but it will reduce the number present. Pathogens have been isolated from a wide variety of fresh produce, and outbreaks of food borne illness have been associated with many types of produce—cantaloupes and tomatoes, for example. If the skin of the fruit or vegetable is contaminated, the pathogens move into the fruit when it is sliced. Removing the skin or rind reduces the risk.

Here's the more detailed version;

Salmonellosis and Campylobacteriosis Bacteria: widespread in nature; live and grow in intestinal tracts of humans and animals.

Examples of foods involved: Raw or undercooked poultry, meat and eggs. Unpasteurized dairy products. Contaminated raw fruits and vegetables.

Transmission: Eating contaminated food, or contact with infected persons or carriers of the infection. Also transmitted by insects, rodents, farm animals, and pets.

Symptoms: Diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps and vomiting. Infants, elderly people, and immunocompromised persons are most susceptible. Severe infections cause high fever and may even cause death. In a small number of cases, can lead to arthritis and Gullian-Barre syndrome, an autoimmune disorder.

Onset: 1–5 days.
Duration: 2–7 days.
Prevention: Cook foods thoroughly. The bacteria are destroyed by heating the food to 140F for 10 minutes or to higher temperatures for less time— for instance, 160F for a few seconds. Chill foods rapidly in small quantities. Refrigerate at 40F. Wash hands, work surfaces and equipment after touching raw meat or poultry.

It's important to note that chickens naturally have salmonella bacteria in their intestinal tract so there is no way to guarantee the absence of the bacteria on eggs or in chicken meat. (UPDATE: Apparently the type of salmonella they are tracking down is in the ovaries of the chickens so it is found inside the egg.) The key distinction is the level of contamination. The more bacteria that is present in the eggs or in the meat, the more likely someone will fall ill.

Local organic chickens are going to have less bacteria. A recent study on chicken meat makes this very clear;

They found that 2/3 of the chicken for sale in the store had salmonella bacteria but if you look more closely the chickens raised and processed in factory conditions like Tyson and Foster Farms had over 80% of their product with salmonella. One of the problems is that an industry standard is to dunk all the chickens in the same big tub of water after processing. Organic chicken using air chilled coolers had only 40% of the meat with the presence of bacteria.

I'm not aware of a similar study with eggs but it stands to reason that the results would be similar. You can buy eggs at your local farmers' market or better yet, get your own chickens and you'll never have to buy another industrially polluted egg. Go here to see a series of posts I did on "How to get started raising chickens in your backyard."