The Food and Drug Administration has proposed amending labeling regulations to allow producers to place the statutory safety directives under the lid of egg cartons. The FDA has stipulated that the statement “Keep Refrigerated” must still appear on the top or side panel of the carton. The proposed amendment relates to Federal regulations published in December 2000, requiring shell eggs to be promptly cooled to 45 F and to be maintained at 45 F or lower through storage, transport and point of sale.
The current safe handling statement “To prevent illness from bacteria: keep eggs refrigerated, cook eggs until yolks are firm, and cook foods containing eggs thoroughly” is still required. Cooling eggs after packing and maintaining a cold chain through to point of sale and hopefully thereafter, is a major factor in reducing the incidence rate of SE.
A small proportion of eggs produced by a flock previously vaccinated against SE, but with evidence of environmental contamination, contain SE organisms at a low level. Most eggs, which may be infected by the vertical route, usually have less than 100 organisms at the time of lay. Maintaining eggs at 45 F or lower reduces the quantum of infection by inhibiting multiplication during storage and transport.
If contaminated eggs are subsequently cooked according to FDA guidelines, they will generally be innocuous. Refrigerating eggs was not a practice in the late 1980s when SE emerged in the U.S. This resulted in multiplication of the small number of SE organisms present to attain high levels within 10 days, often exceeding a million organisms. This situation created the potential for contamination of pools of egg liquid or cross contamination of non-cooked foods in commercial kitchens and households.
Cases of SE occurred due to improper handling and preparation of recopies containing eggs, especially when dishes were insufficiently cooked.