Following an extensive study of the food safety aspects of hen shell eggs in the U.K., an expert panel is recommending a revision to current advice to allow raw or lightly-cooked eggs to be served to all members of society. Current advice is for eggs and egg products to be thoroughly cooked before serving to vulnerable groups in order to eliminate the risk of Salmonella poisoning.

The panel’s report and recommendations are now subject to an 8-week period of public consultation. If there are no objections, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) may revise its recommendations for eggs produced in the U.K. under the largest assurance scheme, British Lion eggs, and equivalent systems.

Salmonella risk greatly reduced since 2001

The report, by the Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food (ACMSF) reveals a major reduction in the risk from Salmonella in U.K. eggs since the last review in 2001.

According to the report, “the very low risk level means that U.K. hen eggs produced under the Lion Code, or produced under demonstrably equivalent comprehensive schemes, can be served raw or lightly cooked to all groups in society, including those that are more vulnerable to infection, in both domestic and commercial settings, including care homes and hospitals, and this recommendation does not apply when non-Lion Code or imported eggs are used.”

“We welcome the confirmation of the findings of this important report and urge the FSA to accept ACMSF’s risk assessment and recommendations, and to update its advice to vulnerable groups as soon as possible,” said Andrew Joret, chairman of the British Egg Industry Council (BEIC), which runs the British Lion scheme.

Evidence supporting the ACMSF recommendation included the dramatic fall in incidents of Salmonella enteritidis (SE) in chickens in Great Britain and laboratory reporting of human SE infections in England and Wales over the period 1985-2011. Marked reductions were noted after the introduction of SE vaccination in the 1990s – particularly after the live vaccines were introduced in 2003. The National Control Program (NCP) for Salmonella in commercial laying hen flocks was implemented in 2008, and set in place the monitoring and controls required in order to meet the legislative target for reduction in Salmonella prevalence. The following year, harmonized rules were introduced across the European Union restricting the sale of fresh eggs from flocks that were positive for SE or Salmonella enterica serovarTyphimurium (ST).

Of sampled laying flocks in the U.K. in 2014, just 0.08 percent tested positive for SE or ST. All flocks in Great Britain that test positive for these bacteria have been voluntarily culled, a practice that likely helps to reduce prevalence.

Eggs produced outside of British Lion scheme not covered in study

ACMSF made clear that its recommendations do not apply to eggs produced under schemes that are not equivalent to British Lion, or to eggs from other species. It also stressed the continued need to handle and store eggs safely to prevent contamination from other foods and the preparation area.

In 2014, the BEIC announced new research suggesting that eating eggs during pregnancy and early in life likely reduces the risk of a child developing an egg allergy.