by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Eggs

Aug 26 2010

Egg industry response to recalls (in translation)

How is the egg industry handling the recalls?

Yesterday, major newspapers ran a full-page ad from “America’s Egg Farmers” (I saw it in USA Today and in the New York Times). The ad displays an egg and text on a white background, nothing more.

The text is spare and notable more for what it does not say than for what it does. Here it is, with my translations in red italics.

A message from America’s Egg Farmers. We want you to think that we are down home farmers of small flocks of hens in a lovely bucolic settings. We think this sounds better than “A message from egg agribusiness.”

You’ve probably heard about the recent egg recall. We wish you hadn’t.

As egg farmers, we’re concerned, and continue to work closely with the FDA and USDA to help ensure the safest and highest quality eggs possible. We don’t have to take any responsibility for this mess. We will let the FDA and USDA deal it.

The potentially affected eggs, which make up less than 1% of all US eggs, have been removed from store shelves. Whew.  The problem is solved. We don’t need to do another thing except work on public relations.

You may be wondering if eggs are safe to eat. We wish you would just forget about this.

Yes, they are.  Fingers crossed!

Thoroughly cooked eggs are thoroughly safe eggs, according to the Center for Disease control and the FDA. Eggs should be cooked until the whites and yolks are firm. We know we are producing unsafe eggs.  It’s not our fault if you don’t know how to cook them.

To find out more information on this recall and the safe handling of eggs, please visit When you do, we will tell you how safe our eggs are and how well we treat our hens, and invite you to watch an FDA video on how to cook eggs properly.

And remember, thoroughly cooked means thoroughly safe. It’s not our fault if you don’t listen.

I think the egg industry has a lot to answer for. It needs to do better than this. OK egg industry, how about placing an ad that says something like this:

  • We are devastated that this happened and our hearts go out to everyone who became ill and to their families.
  • We are taking every step to make sure that this never happens again.
  • We are deeply sorry that our industry did not voluntarily adopt safety procedures years ago, especially when the FDA first proposed egg safety rules in 2004.
  • We take full responsibility as an industry for the failure of one of our members to obey the law.
  • We will do everything possible to make sure that the victims of this incident are fully compensated for their medical costs and losses.
  • We fully support food safety legislation and urge the Senate to pass S.510 immediately. It will give the FDA the tools it needs to do its job and help us produce eggs under the safest possible conditions.
  • We apologize to the American public that our eggs are not safe enough and that we have not worked hard enough to make sure that they are safe.

I can dream, can’t I?

Aug 23 2010

The egg recall saga continues

The massive egg recalls so dominate the news today that it’s hard to talk about anything else.

For one thing, FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg took to the tube and appeared on three morning shows:

“We need greater abilities to trace back products to their source,” Hamburg told NBC’s “Today” show this morning. “We need better abilities and authorities to put in place these preventive controls and hold companies accountable.”

She pointed out that it is now one year after the peanut butter recall prompted calls for increased regulation, but the FDA still has limited authority to order recalls, among other things.

What she did not say, is that the Senate continues to tie the FDA’s hands by not passing S. 510.  Fortunately, other commentators (besides me) are making that point loud and clear:

With elections looming, Washington insiders saw little chance that the Senate would complete the bill this fall – until now. The recall of about a half-billion eggs in a salmonella scare may have given new life to the legislation….At the moment—even with salmonella eggs–the FDA can’t force a company to take its products off the market. (If an egg producer violates safety standards, the FDA does have authority to divert shell eggs to a pasteurization process, which egg producers would rather avoid).

In the meantime, the industry-sponsored  Egg Safety Center says:

Consumers are reminded that properly storing, handling and cooking eggs should help prevent food-borne illness. The Egg Safety Center and the Food and Drug Administration recommend that eggs should be fully cooked until both the yolks and the whites are firm, and consumers should not eat foods that may contain raw or undercooked eggs.

Wouldn’t it be nice if this group also said: “Producers are reminded that properly taking care of hens and diligently following food safety plans should help prevent food-borne illness. The Egg Safety Center urges egg producers to immediately implement the FDA’s new regulations for preventing Salmonella that went into effect on July 9.”

And here is USA Today’s take on it (I’m quoted).

Aug 20 2010

The Salmonella-in-eggs situation gets worse

Judging from the number of interview requests today, everyone has figured out that the egg recall is not only awful for the people who got sick but also has something to do with our hopelessly inadequate food safety system and dysfunctional Congress.

The CDC has updated its statistics on the number of illnesses.  Here’s what this epidemic looks like:

About 2,000 cases have been reported but the CDC does not yet know whether these are all related to this particular outbreak.

Here’s what’s special about this particular recall:

  • Salmonella in eggs never used to be a problem until we had industrial egg production that puts hundreds of thousands of hens in close (very close) proximity.
  • The company producing these particular eggs has a long history of rule violations.
  • The company was not required to follow standard food safety plans.  Whatever it had to do was voluntary.
  • The FDA started writing rules for safe egg production more than 10 years ago.  These were quashed. It finally got them done last July.
  • The new safety rules for eggs went into effect this July 9, too late to prevent this outbreak.
  • The FDA’s hands are tied by inadequate legislation and resources.
  • The House passed legislation last August—one year ago—to give the FDA more authority and more resources.  The Senate has been sitting on S.510 ever since.

The moral?  Voluntary doesn’t work.  We need mandatory food safety rules.

And sooner rather than later, no?

Aug 19 2010

Salmonella in eggs is old news. But 380 million?

Yesterday, the FDA announced yet another voluntary recall of eggs produced by Wright County Egg in Galt, Iowa.  The first announcement on August 13 covered 228 million eggs.  This one adds 152 million for a grand total of 380 million—so far.

In that first announcement, the Wright company said: “Our farm strives to provide our customers with safe, high-quality eggs – that is our responsibility and our commitment.”

That, however, is not how the New York Times sees it.  According to today’s account, Wright has a long history of “run-ins with regulators over poor or unsafe working conditions, environmental violations, the harassment of workers, and the hiring of illegal immigrants.”

OK, so where are we on safety regulation?  The FDA, after many, many years of trying, finally introduced safety regulations for shell eggs.  These supposedly went into effect on July 9.

I recount the history of FDA’s persistence in the chapter entitled “Eggs and the Salmonella problem” in What to Eat. Check out the table  listing the key events in this history from 1980 to 2005.  It’s not pretty.

Preventing Salmonella should not be difficult.  The rules require producers to take precautions to prevent transmission, control pests and rodents, test for Salmonella, clean and disinfect poultry houses that test positive, divert eggs from positive-testing flocks, refrigerate the eggs right away, and keep records.  These sound reasonable to me, but I care about not making people sick.

Problems with Wright County Eggs started in May before the FDA’s mandatory rules went into effect meaning that the procedures were still voluntary.  The recalls this month are after the fact.  Chances are that most of the recalled eggs have already been eaten.

The CDC is tracking this recall and has logged about 200 reports of illness associated with it so far.  It has plenty to say about Salmonella and its hazards.

According to FoodSafetyNews, the first lawsuits have been filed.

As for food safety legislation that would give the FDA the authority to handle these incidents more efficiently—and, let us hope, maybe even prevent them—it is still sitting in the Senate.  For S.510 watchers, Bill Marler has a helpful new analysis.

The recall, by the way, affects eggs sold under many different brands: Lucerne, Albertson, Mountain Dairy, Ralph’s, Boomsma’s, Sunshine, Hillandale, Trafficanda, Farm Fresh, Shoreland, Lund, Dutch Farms, and Kemps in the first round, and now also James Farms, Glenview, and Pacific Coast.

The good news is that cooking kills Salmonella.  I’m buying eggs at farmers’ markets these days.

Addition: Tom Philpott of Grist on Wright County’s unsavory history.

Aug 12 2009

What the FDA is doing while waiting for Congress to get busy

The FDA must be in a bit of a quandary as it waits to see what Congress orders it to do about food safety (see previous post).  But it is not sitting around doing nothing.  Instead, it seems to be unblocking regulations that have been in the works for a long time.

On July 9, the FDA announced a final rule for prevention of Salmonella Enteriditis contamination of shell eggs during production, storage, and transportation.  This might seem unremarkable except for two points: (1) it requires science-based food safety procedures – with pathogen testing – from farm to table (an all-time first), and (2) it was first proposed in 2004 and has been stuck ever since (that’s politics for you).

On July 31, the FDA proposed safety guidance for melons, tomatoes, and leafy greens that would apply to everyone involved in the supply chains for these foods – growers, packers, processors, transporters, retailers, and others.  Guidance, alas, is just that: voluntary.  But this puts the producers of such foods on alert that the guidance could swiftly turn into rules  if Congress gets busy and does what it ought to be doing about food safety.  The guidance is open for comment but it is designed to be implemented within two years.  This is quick in FDA regulatory time.

And now the FDA announces that it is speeding up its system for issuing warning notices to companies in violation of safety regulations.  This is a good step, although it falls far short of recall authority.  For that, Congress must act.

Applaud the FDA and keep fingers crossed that no new outbreaks occur while Congress takes its own sweet time to act.

Sep 24 2008

Food price fixing? It’s not legal

As readers know, I love to collect reasons for the sharp increase in food prices that has occurred this year.  Here’s a new one: price fixing.  Although you might not know it from looking at the similar prices of food products in the same category, price fixing is illegal.  Federal prosecutors are apparently looking into price collusion in the tomato industry (according to the Associated Press) and egg industry (Wall Street Journal).  Who knew?

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