The National Chicken Council has asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to modify a rule that would virtually eliminate the $5M annual market for hatching eggs that are not needed for broiler production and are sold to companies that can use them for processed food products.

“FDA’s rule on handling of eggs was intended to apply to table eggs, and to apply it without warning to hatching eggs makes no sense and achieves no gain in food safety since processed egg products fully meet safety standards without the required refrigeration step,” said Steve Pretanik, NCC’s director of science and technology.

The rule on “farm to table shell egg safety” did not apply to hatching eggs when it was proposed in 2004, and the broiler chicken industry did not comment on the rule since it did not apply to the industry, according to the NCC petition to the FDA. However, by the time the rule was published in final form in July 2009, it had been changed to apply to hatching eggs in such a way as to prevent them from being sold to processors, known as “breakers.”

The rule requires that any eggs being sold for human consumption must be refrigerated at 45F no more than 36 hours after they are laid in order to control salmonella. In the broiler chicken industry, eggs from breeder flocks can be held for several days at 65F before being put into incubators. If a company does not need all the hatching eggs on hand, surplus eggs can be withheld from incubation and sent instead to egg breakers.

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Refrigerating hatching eggs at 45F, as required for table eggs, is not an option since such a low temperature would ruin them as hatching eggs, the petition said. Since a company rarely decides if eggs are surplus as soon as 36 hours after lay, the FDA rule would have the effect of barring hatching eggs from the breaker market.

The refrigeration requirement is unnecessary for hatching eggs since breakers already pasteurize egg products to achieve a 99.999% reduction in salmonella, the same standard as applied to table eggs, Pretanik said.

In its petition, NCC asked FDA to amend the final rule or to reopen the comment period with respect to application of the rule to hatching eggs.