Eggs Being Produced by Recall Farms Safe, if Pasteurized, Experts Say
THURSDAY Aug. 26, 2010 -- Hens at the two Iowa farms at the center of the recall of more than half a billion eggs linked to salmonella are still laying millions of eggs a day. And those eggs will end up in food products ranging from salad dressings to cookie dough to cake mixes.
However, those products will be perfectly safe for consumers to eat, health and food-safety experts say.
The reason: the eggs will first be pasteurized to remove any salmonella, a food-borne bacteria. Then the eggs can be sold as "liquid eggs" or added to other products. Pasteurized, liquid eggs are usually sold in cartons, displayed near the milk in most supermarkets, the Associated Press reported Thursday.
Wright Egg Farms and Hillandale Farms issued the egg recall earlier this month after receiving reports that salmonella had sickened nearly 2,000 people.
Meanwhile, two new brands of eggs have been added to the salmonella recall tied to the two Iowa farms.
Wright County Egg said it has found salmonella in the Cardenas Market brand and is beginning a voluntary recall. Affected cartons have the plant number 1026 on the side and Julian (packaged) dates between 136 and 228, CBS News reported Thursday.
And Trafficanda Egg Ranch reported salmonella in some of its eggs from Wright County. Affected plant numbers are 1026, 1413, 1720, 1942 and 1946, with Julian dates between 136 and 229, the news network said.
Experts stress that any shell eggs that have been recalled from store shelves are being destroyed. But spokeswomen for the two farms said their hens are still laying several million eggs a day, and those eggs are being shipped to facilities where the shells are broken and the contents pasteurized, the AP reported.
Hillandale Farms spokeswoman Julie DeYoung said the operation has 2 million birds that lay an egg about every 26 hours. "It's close to 2 million eggs a day," she said.
University of Illinois food science professor Bruce Chassy told the AP that eggs laid by a hen infected with salmonella can be safely sold if they are pasteurized or cooked. Both processes raise the temperature of the eggs enough to kill most, if not all, salmonella. The bacteria "are all going to be dead, and if they're dead, they're not going to hurt anybody," he said.
Pasteurized liquid eggs can be used to prepare foods, such Caesar salad dressing, that call for raw eggs.
But what about any eggs still languishing in your fridge? Are they safe to eat?
To find out, check the carton for the "Sell By" date and the two numbers below it, federal health officials say, to see if your eggs are involved in the recall. One number is the plant number, and the other is the packaged date, or Julian date, showing what day of the year the eggs were packaged. For example, Jan. 1 is 001 and Dec. 31 is 365. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has a list of what numbered designations are included in the recall.
Earlier this week, the head of the FDA said there may be more recalls of eggs potentially tainted by salmonella.
"We may see some additional sort of sub-recalls over the next couple of days, maybe even weeks, as we better understand the network of distribution of these eggs that are contaminated," Dr. Margaret Hamburg told NBC's Today show.
At least 550 million eggs have been recalled so far, according to federal officials.
Hamburg said new laws are needed to expand the FDA's enforcement from a mostly reactive stance on food safety to a more "preventive approach." Congress should pass pending legislation that would give her agency greater enforcement power, including new authority over imported food, she said.
During a press conference Monday afternoon, federal officials said they had received nearly 2,000 reports of salmonella infections in people in about 22 states, a number they predicted would continue to grow in the coming weeks.
The actual number of people infected may be considerably higher, since not everyone who gets ill with salmonella seeks medical attention, officials said. Some estimates put the actual number of those sickened at 30 to 38 times the number reported, said Dr. Christopher R. Braden, acting director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Division of Foodborne, Waterborne and Environmental Diseases.
Potential sources of salmonella contamination can include rodents, shipments of contaminated chicks or tainted feed, Hamburg said.
On Saturday, it was reported that both Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms share suppliers of chickens and chicken feed.
In healthy people, salmonella can cause fever, abdominal cramps and diarrhea and usually lasts four to seven days. However, contamination can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems.
The FDA advises consumers to:
- Toss recalled eggs or return them to the store for a refund.
- See a doctor if you think you are ill after eating recalled eggs.
- Keep eggs refrigerated at all times.
- Throw out cracked or dirty eggs.
- Wash hands, utensils and preparation surfaces with soap and water after contact with raw eggs.
- Cook eggs until both the white and the yolk are firm and eat promptly after cooking.
Harmful bacteria such as salmonella are the most common cause of foodborne illnesses, according to federal health officials.