Friday, September 17, 2010

the egg saga continues

If you have access to the internet it's pretty much a given at this point that you know about the enormous egg recall.  You may even have heard that the salmonella contamination actually went back as far as 2008.

Obviously this issue raised a lot of questions about sanitary practices, animal health management, and even about FDA/USDA oversight or lack thereof.  I'm sure a lot more people are either not eating eggs or considering raising their own chickens.  And I talked with a number of people who wondered how price the cost of eggs was going to go once the full recall was in effect.  Especially if you are buying free range, organic eggs you are already paying a premium.  One person even jokingly asked me if I thought there would be a bailout of the egg producer since, "We've already bailed out everyone else who made huge mistakes and [hurt] the consumer in search of profits."

I confess I wondered what was going to happen with all those recalled eggs.  Hundreds of millions of eggs were recalled.  That's a lot of money.  Well, it turns out those eggs are not going to be destroyed or flushed down the drain or disposed of.  Stephen Jannise of Distribution Software Advice has written an article that explains how all those eggs are going to remain in the food chain.  They're going to be sent to "breakage plants" where they will be pasteurized to "clean up" the pathogenic bacteria and then it will be turned into egg product such as egg beaters or the "scrambled" eggs that appear in many buffet breakfasts.  Stephen does an excellent job explaining the recall (there's also a good graphic showing the egg distribution) and I encourage you to read the article.

The FDA is now considering requiring that all eggs be pasteurized before they are sold.  I'm not a big fan of this.  First of all, when pasteurizing an egg, even though it's not cooked, the proteins begin to bind together.  Secondly, although there are no studies that I can find I know that pasteurization can have a negative effect on dairy.  Furthermore, I agree with the tone of the article linked to above.  The FDA, instead of looking at the enormous supply chain, overcrowding, unsanitary, inhumane conditions, and the lack of oversight wants to over-regulate it and require pasteurization.  I see that as a problem.

More importantly I'm not convinced that there won't be a problem with the pasteurization process, meaning some contamination might still make it through. I wonder how much of this liquid egg product will wind up in the food chain for use in baked goods and other commercial applications.  

At this point I believe the safest thing is to only get fresh eggs from sources you trust, not to eat liquid egg products, and to avoid scrambled eggs from commercial establishments.

photo:  Stephen Depolo

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