Yolk’s on the media, FDA says

Mark A. DeSorbo

WASHINGTON, DC—New regulatortory initiatives on food safety as well as news and wire reports that target eggs as a leading cause of foodborne illnesses did not evoke the sunny side of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

In fact, the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) continues to debunk such myths as, “salmonella comes only from eggs,” “illness outbreaks are increasing,” and “restaurants could be liable if they serve eggs sunny-side up.”

“Some rather erroneous media reports got out there somehow,” says a CFSAN spokesman, who declined to give his name to CleanRooms.

By September, however, all egg cartons at U.S. grocery stores will warn consumers to refrigerate eggs and cook them thoroughly to avoid the risk of illness from salmonella. The CFSAN spokesman also indicated that the announcement of labeling egg cartons generated another myth that indicated that the FDA is singling out eggs as a major food safety problem.

The egg safety labels, part of a broad plan to alert home cooks to the risk of foodborne illnesses, must be in place on all packages by Sept. 4, he adds. According to the FDA, the safe handling label proposed by the agency in December 2000 is an education initiative to guide consumers about the proper cooking and handling of eggs. Labels are consistent with other animal protein products found in the supermarket.

The FDA-required labels will read, “To prevent illness from bacteria: Keep eggs refrigerated, cook eggs until yolks are firm, and cook foods containing eggs thoroughly.” Finalized more than a year ago, some companies have already begun labeling cartons.

Under the Clinton administration, the FDA and the U.S. Agriculture Department (USDA) collaborated on a series of egg safety rules to reduce the risk of illness, the CFSAN spokesman says. Since then, the practice of repackaging old eggs into cartons with new “sell-by'' dates has been outlawed, while strict rules have been imposed for keeping eggs chilled at 45 degrees Fahrenheit in trucks, warehouses and stores.

According to CFSAN, salmonella enteriditis is carried by about one egg in every 20,000 of the 67 billion eggs consumed annually. The bacteria, which cause nausea, fever and diarrhea in an estimated 310,000 Americans each year, is blamed for at least 100 deaths. Small children, the elderly, and those with chronic illnesses are most vulnerable.

Unlike other foodborne diseases from fecal material or dust contamination, eggs are infected while they are being formed inside the hen.


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