Producing a safe egg depends on the careful following of of practices and procedures that start with healthy breeding flocks, pullet vaccination and barn sanitation that all last throughout the laying period.
The global incidence of reported food safety issues resulting from eggs is minimal when considering how many eggs are consumed each year and, in many countries, consumers eat eggs without any concern about food safety at all. Pathogens or unwanted residues are the least of their worries when cooking an omelet or preparing a poached egg, and the credit goes to farmers and the multipronged approach used.
Start as you mean to go on
Since Salmonella, the main human pathogen found in eggs, can be transmitted from parent birds to progeny. The initial control measure is to ensure that breeder flocks are free of Salmonella enteritidis and other vertically-transmitted Salmonella species.
The eradication of a number of diseases in breeder flocks not only facilitates the raising of pullets, but also significantly reduces the need for antibiotic treatments. While purchasing “clean” day-old chicks is commonly enjoyed by egg farmers in North America, Europe and various countries, many farmers still do not benefit from this.
Conveniently mass administered vaccines have greatly facilitated the adoption of comprehensive vaccination programs during the pullet stage, and it is common for laying hens to enter production after having received between 15-20 vaccinations.
These health programs not only contribute optimum flock productivity, but also enhance hen welfare and have almost eliminated any need for medical treatment during production. This is good news since there are really no antibiotics approved for use in laying hens with a zero-withdrawal period.
Starting production in a clean, sanitized barn and staying clean throughout production while applying proper management practices to feed, water, air quality, and temperature are key requirements for producing safe eggs.
Strict biosecurity measures must be in place, properly explained to all workers, enforced and monitored regularly for effectiveness. Not all measures are complex or difficult to apply – think about the simple, but important, rule that farm clothes and boots must stay on the farm!
Barn environment testing is recognized as the best method to monitor the Salmonella status of a flock and regulations in many countries mandate these tests to guarantee egg safety. While some countries also require the washing and refrigeration of eggs, these steps have little impact on the overall food safety outcome considering that most countries do not apply them under the same principles.
In the end, it is a combination of many activities, procedures and practices that guarantee the safety of eggs. From the billions of eggs consumed daily, the incidence of reported food safety issues is insignificant, another fact explaining the global success of eggs for human nutrition and food security.