Eggs should be treats not tricks

My latest for the Texas A&M Center for Food Safety.

The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved introduced the world to Gonzo journalism and Hunter S. Thompson in 1970. years later, they’re still living the decadence at Australia’s Melbourne Cup.

In true Hunter fashion, Australian bars open at 7 a.m. on Tuesday, Nov.4, Melbourne Cup day. The entire country shuts down to watch a three-minute horse race. Women wear outrageous hats.

And people get sick.

Last year on silly-hat day, there was an outbreak of Salmonella poisoning at Melbourne Cup functions.

At least 220 people at 40 different Melbourne Cup events catered by the same Brisbane-based company, Piccalilli Catering, got sick with Salmonella. One died.

On Nov. 14, the co-owner of Piccalilli Catering released a statement via Twitter identifying her company as the responsible caterer and saying that they were deeply upset and distressed but denying responsibility, alleging that the infection was due to eggs provided by their supplier to make raw egg mayonnaise. Ms Grace denied any breakdown in her company’s quality system.

In the ensuing year, there has been no further update from Queensland Health and the initial Nov. 13 update has been erased from the Department’s website.

There’s some basic risk analysis questions here that should be answered to provide some level of confidence to Australian consumers, so I wrote the Queensland Minister of Health to ask:

powell.egg.nov.14• how did the outbreak happen;

• was this commodity sourced from a food safety accredited supplier;

• did handling by the caterer contribute to this outbreak;

• what is Queensland Health’s policy on use of raw eggs in dishes to be consumed raw;

• is this policy enforced;

• is the investigation closed and if so, why and when was it closed;

• will an outbreak investigation report be created and publicized;

• why was the previous update erased from the Department’s website and on whose authority; and,

• what is Queensland Health’s policy on providing information to the public.

It is in the best interests of both the public and the food industry that your Department respond promptly to such outbreaks demonstrating timeliness, transparency and critical detail. I have no confidence that your Department will follow through on the release of information should there be any similar outbreaks.”

In the past year, I’ve chatted with folks about the Melbourne Cup outbreak and am usually met with, oh yeah, I heard something about that. One person told me her husband was hospitalized for several days and was pissed off about the lack of public discussion.

Forget the Salmonella, it’s all about hats.

And cute tweets.

Safe Food Queensland on Oct. 16, 2014 wrote that “eggs that are cracked &/or dirty (e.g. feathers, feces) can be a source of microbes like salmonella, which if eaten can make people sick.”

egg.farmThanks for that tip.

So how did those 220 people get sick last year?

Or the 160 who got sick from a raw-egg mayonnaise at a Canberra restaurant on Mother’s Day 2014 when they just wanted to go for lunch?

Or the weekly outbreaks involving raw eggs around the world.

As reported by the Des Moines Register, in 2010, a Salmonella outbreak traced to Austin “Jack” DeCoster’s Iowa egg plants caused the recall of 550 million eggs and led to confirmed illness in nearly 2,000 people, though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration estimated that tens of thousands of people were sickened.

Plea agreements show the company sold the tainted eggs for about eight months starting in January 2010. Documents in a lawsuit by a California food coop that sold the eggs indicate that four months elapsed between when a manager was notified by a veterinarian that Salmonella was present in three DeCoster plants and when one of those, Wright County Eggs, began a recall. And that was only after it had been contacted by the FDA about salmonella sickness in three states linked to its eggs.

Given the BS brand names, how is a consumer to know?

The vast majority of farmers can produce eggs with limited or no Salmonella. I want to buy those eggs – not the eggs marketed as cage-free or not (I don’t want chickens eating their own shit).

It can be a scary and deranged world out there. Might as well bet on the ponies.

A table of raw egg related outbreaks in Australia is available at

Dr. Douglas Powell is a former professor of food safety who shops, cooks and ferments from his home in Brisbane, Australia.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the original creator and do not necessarily represent that of the Texas A&M Center for Food Safety or Texas A&M University. 

You’re not a fan of washing? I’m not a fan of Salmonella; 220 sickened and Australia still has an egg problem

In Feb. 2014,  the Victorian Department of Health blamed Green Eggs for a Salmonella outbreak in Melbourne and issued a health alert for the company’s raw eggs.

garlic.aioli_-300x300-300x300At least 220 people were sickened.

Science more that soundbites is what is needed on this issue.

The loss of 70 per cent of its business forced the Great Western company to shed staff and send their eggs to Melbourne for washing.

Owner Alan Green says the saga has cost the family-owned company hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“We lost 70 per cent of our market in 24 hours,” he said.

“We’ve got 40 per cent of that back and we’re now working rapidly on the other 30.”

The business has 33,000 chooks, which produce eggs for restaurants in Melbourne and farmers markets across Victoria.

The Department of Health has repeatedly said it’s confident Green Eggs was linked to a salmonella outbreak at two restaruants.

The farm was initially quarantined, with the department ordering the company to wash its eggs.

The couple has since, reluctantly, purchased an egg washer.

They wash their eggs prior to grading and packaging.

“Washing can be positive because it now eliminates any bacteria on the egg whatsoever,” Mr Green said.

“If done incorrectly, then washing won’t add bacteria but it can allow bacteria to get back in.

“It won’t happen during the washing because of the chlorine level in the washing water but it can get in later if the egg isn’t treated properly after washing.

“We’ve had to do it, not wishing to do it, but having done it we’ve now endorsed it and we’re doing everything we can to not only reach that level but go beyond it.”

Mr Green says all eggs in the United States must be washed, while in the UK egg producers are banned from washing eggs.

“We’re now vaccinating all our birds, which is what’s required in Europe and England.

“…we’ll be leaders in the small production field – there’s already big operators washing eggs.

“Does that mean everyone washing? I’m not a fan of washing.”

A table of raw egg related outbreaks in Australia is available at

“A little garlic to kill the germs.” Mike Tyson makes eggs on Jimmy Kimmel

Mike Tyson’s resurgence as a figure in popular culture is likely correlated with his frequent appearances on Jimmy Kimmel (my favorite one is Mike Tyson’s pigeons). Last night he was at it again and showed Jimmy how to make an omelette a scramble. Tyson includes a little food safety advice, “need a little garlic to kill the germs.”

Not sure that’s going to work for Salmonella. Probably best to cook it 145F, which just above the temperature that eggs set at.

It’s an egg problem; Salmonella spike in South Australia linked to television cooking shows? Blame the consumer

A spike in food poisoning cases has been linked to South Australians undercooking eggs at home.

The new cases have sparked warnings from health authorities to be wary of attempting techniques used on television cooking shows.

SA Health figures show 353 cases of potentially life-threatening salmonellosis have been reported throughout the state so far this year. That is about a third more than the number of cases – 267 – reported at the same time last year.

celebrity.chefsAbout 15 per cent of cases this year were hospitalised.

SA Health director of food safety and nutrition Dr Fay Jenkins said that while raw chicken and other meat can lead to salmonella poisoning, undercooked eggs were believed to be responsible for the recent increase.

“Millions of eggs are eaten each week,” she said. “It’s the exposure we have to eggs. There is nothing that has linked these cases to a restaurant or anything like that.

“We believe it is linked to the handling of eggs at home.”

Dr Jenkins warned against using such techniques as the 60/60 method of cooking eggs at a lower temperature of 60C for the longer timeframe of 60 minutes, a method featured on the inanely boring television cooking show, My Kitchen Rules.

How about cross-contamination or the ritualistic use of raw eggs in many Australian restaurants? You’ve heard it from Dr. Jenkins. It’s up to you, Australian consumers.

I habitually ask if the aioli or mayo is made at a restaurant using raw eggs, and then don’t touch it. But I don’t eat out that often anymore.

A table of raw egg related outbreaks in Australia is available at

Spot the mistake: Television cooking shows as a source of food safety information

01.may.04, Mathiasen, L.A., Chapman, B.J., Lacroix, B.J. and Powell, D.A., Food Protection Trends 24(5): 328-334

Consumers receive information on food preparation from a variety of sources. Numerous studies conducted over the past six years demonstrate that television is one of the primary sources for North Americans. This research reports on an examination and categorization of messages that television food and cooking programs provide to viewers about preparing food safely.

During June 2002 and 2003, television food and cooking programs were recorded and reviewed, using a defined list of food safety practices based on criteria established by Food Safety Network researchers. Most surveyed programs were shown on Food Network Canada, a specialty cable channel.

On average, 30 percent of the programs viewed were produced in Canada, with the remainder produced in the United States or United Kingdom. Sixty hours of content analysis revealed that the programs contained a total of 916 poor food-handling incidents. When negative food handling behaviors were compared to positive food handling behaviors, it was found that for each positive food handling behavior observed, 13 negative behaviors were observed. 

Common food safety errors included a lack of hand washing, cross-contamination and time-temperature violations. While television food and cooking programs are an entertainment source, there is an opportunity to improve their content so as to promote safe food handling.

Les risques lies a la securite des aliments pendant paques

Translated by Albert Amgar

La manipulation des poussins et des canetons peut entrainer une salmonellose,
Les oeufs crus sont liés a des epidémies
Risques dus aux poussins
Le CDC a rapporté ce mois-ci que 96 cas de salmonellose ont été liés à la manipulation de poussins pendant l’été 2011.
La plupart des patients ont rapporté avoir acheté des poussins ou des canetons dans une chaîne nationale de magasins d’aliments pour animaux qui a été fournie par un seul couvoir.
Depuis 1990, 35 épidémies d’infections humaines à Salmonella liées au contact avec des volailles vivantes ont été signalées.
Le lavage des mains après la manipulation des animaux, même les plus mignons, réduit le risque de maladie. Les enfants peuvent tomber malades en touchant les oiseaux et en mettant leurs mains directement dans la bouche ou en touchant des aliments.
Risques liés aux œufs
En 2011, les desserts produits par une boulangerie de Rhode Island ont été liés à 56 cas de maladies et un décès. Le Rhode Island Department of Health a souligné la contamination croisée avec des œufs crus comme source probable de contamination.
Les pâtisseries ont également été entreposées dans des caisses où des œufs cassés avaient été mis.
Des œufs pas assez cuits ou crus ont été liés à de multiples épidémies à Salmonella, dont 22 cas de maladies en Australie au début de 2012 et plus de 200 cas de maladies au Royaume-Uni en juin 2011.
• Les œufs peuvent héberger Salmonella et ont besoin d’être cuits à 63°C pendant 15 secondes ou jusqu’à ce que le jaune soit centré pour réduire les risques.
• Les œufs crus doivent être entreposés au réfrigérateur à une température égale ou inférieure à 7°C.
• Utilisez des œufs pasteurisés dans un plat à la place d’œufs crus pour réduire les risques.
Utilisez un colorant de qualité alimentaire, si vous souhaitez colorer des œufs. Si des œufs à la coque sont utilisés pour une chasse aux œufs, il est préférable de ne pas les consommer car les coquilles peuvent se fissurer permettant aux bactéries d’entrer. Si les œufs colorés doivent être consommés, conservez-les en dessous de 5°C après les avoir fait bouillir et colorer et ne pas les laisser hors du réfrigérateur pendant plus de 4h.

Earning a baking badge

Browsing through the channels the other night, I came across one of the many food porn shows on TV, DC Cupcakes. Being the food safety observer I’ve become, I thought I’d watch for food safety faux pas. I wasn’t disappointed.

The owners were hosting the Girl Scouts of America, who needed to earn their baking badges. This was especially significant because the bakers had failed to earn their baking badges back in the day.

The cupcake experts started with egg and butter tips. One of them told the girls that the cupcake batter would be better if the eggs and butter were at room temperature prior to mixing them. As she said this, she handed an egg to each of the girls, one of which dropped it on the counter.

After they all cracked their eggs in a bowl, including the cracked one, they proceeded to feel how soft the butter was. No handwashing featured after touching the eggs or before contaminating the butter (and everything else they came in contact with for that matter).

As demonstrated by a recent salmonella outbreak in a Rhode Island bakery, which may have been the outcome of contaminated eggs, it’s important to follow simple safety practices such as handwashing. Especially in the food production business.

Maybe that’s why the DC ladies didn’t earn their baking badge when they were Brownies.

Salmonella-tainted eggs linked to U.S. government’s failure to act; screw consumers

Government is hopeless. Endless meetings, competing agendas, bruised egos – all in an effort to get a national salmonella-egg rule passed going back to the 1980s.

The Washington Post has a blow-by-blow account of the bureaucratic wankfest that is federal egg safety, which will keep politicos intrigued with their Saturday morning lattes and eggs Benedict, but offers nothing for the over-easy crowd.

The salmonella-in-eggs outbreak this summer sickened over 1,900 with plenty of blame to go around – negligent ownership, lax inspections, awful auditors and retailers who didn’t want to know. But after reading the Post account, does anyone really want the feds in charge?

Lester Crawford, whose own bout with salmonella in 1986 turned the issue into a personal battle, pushed for egg regulation while running the food safety program at the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1987 to 1991, and he said he was stunned by the lack of progress when he joined the Food and Drug Administration as acting deputy commissioner in 2002.

"The system certainly was at its worst. … I went nuts. I was told it was ready to go and all we needed to do was say yes, so I said yes.”

He kept up the fight through 2005, when he left the agency.

The regulations that took effect this year require farmers to buy chickens that are certified free of salmonella, test those chickens while they are laying eggs and, if there is a positive test, stop selling whole eggs.

In the absence of federal regulation, some states began in the 1990s to enact their own rules, many focused on refrigeration. But the varying requirements created headaches for producers selling nationwide.

The health of chickens falls under the USDA, but the FDA oversees the safety of whole eggs. Once an egg is broken and made into an "egg product," responsibility for its safety switches back to the USDA.

The USDA also oversees transportation of whole eggs, but the FDA dictates how they should be stored once they reach restaurants or stores.

Because salmonella wasn’t making chickens sick, the USDA initially decided not to intervene. USDA inspectors are in packing facilities, but henhouses normally are the purview of the FDA. And the FDA rarely inspected henhouses.

The FDA has not routinely inspected egg farms because it has not established rules or standards, Deputy Commissioner Joshua M. Sharfstein said.

I get that the feds failed. But as a consumer, am I supposed to have faith that FDA has checked out Salmonella Jack DeCoster’s operations, now that his eggs are back on retail shelves?

What if I want to avoid DeCoster’s eggs, because he has a bad track record and will soon be slip-slidin’ away to the lowest common denominator?

Repeated outbreaks have shown there are good producers and bad producers, good retailers and bad retailers. As a consumer, I have no way of knowing.

Tell consumers about salmonella-testing programs meant to reduce risks; put a URL on egg cartons so those who are interested can use the Internet or even personal phones to see how the eggs were raised and testing data. The best producers and processors will go far beyond the lowest common denominator of government and should be rewarded in the marketplace.

Sorenne, eggs for breakfast?

Hillandale Farms can sell eggs again after salmonella outbreak and recall

With the latest confirmed salmonella count topping 1,800 victims, the producer that provided the contaminated eggs has been cleared to resume sales.

Elizabeth Weise USA Today reports the Food and Drug Administration has given Hillandale Farms, one of two Midwest egg producers at the center of this summer’s massive egg recall, the go-ahead to sell shell eggs again. But the other, Wright County Egg, instead got a scathing warning letter threatening that if corrective action is not taken, the FDA could seize company assets.

The warning letter sent on Friday said FDA inspectors had found "serious deviations" from salmonella regulations at the company’s plants in Galt, Clarion and Dows, Iowa, including:

•Failure "to eliminate rodent hiding places and nesting sites," and failure to properly seal its henhouses.

•Failure to eliminate sources of water in the manure pits below the henhouses.

•Failure to require employees to "change protective clothing when moving from house to house."

•Failure to keep uncaged chickens out of the egg-laying operation.

•Findings of live mice, live and dead flies and live and dead maggots "too numerous to count" in the henhouses.

The Centers for Disease Control reported yesterday that from May 1 to October 15, 2010, approximately 1,813 illnesses were reported that are likely to be associated with this outbreak.

Salmonella in eggs is not new; what have auditors, inspectors and buyers been doing

Philip Brasher of the Des Moines Register reports that the salmonella-in-Wright and Hillandale-eggs outbreak that has sickened at least 1,470 in the U.S. left officials at Costco Wholesale Corp. scratching their heads. How had inspectors for Costco, who looked over the northeast Iowa farm where the chain bought eggs, not noticed the rodent holes in the henhouses?

Craig Wilson, who oversees food safety for Costco, said, "There are a lot of guys going, ‘Hey, wait a minute. They’re finding stuff and our guys were there and they didn’t see it.’ "

Critics – and I was one of them — say many food-safety audits are designed to tell companies paying for them what they want to hear. The defunct Peanut Corp. of America had a glowing food safety audit from an outside firm before a 2008 salmonella outbreak in peanut butter that killed nine people and sickened more than 700.

U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors also missed the problems at Hillandale as well as at Wright County Egg, a producer that recalled 380 million eggs and supplied Hillandale with hens and feed.

The USDA employees, whose main job is to grade eggs on their condition and catch defects, don’t check henhouses or look into farms’ salmonella-prevention programs, a job the USDA leaves to the Food and Drug Administration.

The USDA employees do inspect conditions in packing facilities for companies that request and pay for the service. The packing facilities at Hillandale in West Union and at four more farms operated by Wright County Egg had all been audited by the USDA in 2009 or this year and received stellar marks – grades of 97 to 99 percent.

Several customers of R.W. Sauder Inc., an egg producer in Pennsylvania, have told the company they plan to add salmonella-prevention measures to their egg specifications, said Paul Sauder, the firm’s president. Those buyers include a large supermarket chain and food service company, whom Sauder declined to name.

Buyers "had the perception that as long as the eggs were USDA-inspected, all eggs were equal. There is renewed awareness now," he said.

Salmonella in eggs is not new.

Salmonella in eggs: USDA graders and auditors were around filthy facilities, did they say anything?

Alison Young of USA Today reports today U.S. Department of Agriculture staff regularly on site at two Iowa egg processors implicated in a national salmonella outbreak were supposed to enforce rules against the presence of disease-spreading rodents and other vermin, federal regulations show.

Doug Powell, an associate professor of food safety at Kansas State University, said regulations are only as good as their enforcement, adding, "It goes back to the responsibility of whoever is producing the food. How do you establish a corporate culture where people pay attention to food safety?"

The USDA egg graders, part of an industry-paid program, were at Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms at least 40 hours a week — including before the outbreak — inspecting the size and quality of eggs inside processing buildings.

Though USDA regulations say buildings and "outside premises" must be free of conditions that harbor vermin, the agency takes a narrow view of its responsibilities. Under the USDA’s unwritten interpretation of the regulations, egg graders only look for vermin inside the specific processing building where they are based, said Dean Kastner, an assistant USDA branch chief in poultry grading program.

The agency interprets outside premises as only the area immediately around the processing building’s loading dock and trash receptacle, he said.

Salmonella can be spread by rodents and wild birds. Outbreak investigators from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) this week released reports documenting filthy conditions in and around egg laying barns at the two companies, including rodents, rodent holes, wild birds, flies and other vermin.

Hillandale Farms spokeswoman Julie DeYoung said the barns at its facility are about 50 feet from the processing building. At Wright County Egg, the laying barns are 50 feet apart and connected to the processing plant, said spokeswoman Hinda Mitchell.

Associated Press subsequently reported two former workers at Wright County Egg facilities, Robert and Deanna Arnold, say they reported problems such as leaking manure and dead chickens to USDA employees but were ignored and told to return to work.

The salmonella outbreak has led to a recall of about 550 million eggs.