by Marion Nestle
Aug 21 2012

The FDA tries again on egg safety

We Americans like our eggs.

American egg producers provide us with about 76 billion eggs a year, which averages out to 242 eggs per capita.

But their safety can be iffy for two reasons: Salmonella and cholesterol.

Since the 1980s, more and more eggs have gotten contaminated with pathogenic Salmonella enteriditis, in part because of the increasing size of egg farms, and in part because of long delays in safety rules.

Salmonella is a preventable problem.

Producers must use clean food and water, probiotics to prevent development of pathogenic bacteria in hen intestines, and vaccines as necessary.  They also must keep eggs cold.

I discussed all this in my book What to Eat, in a chapter I called “Eggs and the Salmonella Problem.”  In it, I reviewed some history:

  •  1997     Center for Science in the Public Interest petitions the FDA to do insist that egg farms follow standard food safety procedur.
  • 1999     The FDA requires Safe Handling labels on egg cartons and refrigeration during storage and transport.
  • 2004    The FDA proposes safety rules for on-farm egg production.
  • 2009    The FDA issues rules to be implemented in 2010 for egg producers with 50,000 or more hens, and 2012 for producers with 3,000 or more.

Yesterday, the FDA issued Guidance for Industry:  Questions and Answers Regarding the Final Rule, Prevention of Salmonella Enteritidis in Shell Eggs During Production, Storage, and Transportation.

And it updated its Egg Safety home page.

Still to come: rules for producers of organic eggs that allow hens access to the outdoors.

But maybe we shouldn’t be eating so many eggs anyway?

A recent Canadian study associates eating egg yolks with formation of plaques in coronary arteries.

The egg industry doesn’t like this study much.

Eggs have been shown to have a wide range of health benefits, providing 13 essential vitamins and minerals, high-quality protein and antioxidants, all for just 70 calories.

It cites other studies giving different results.

These findings are surprising and contradict more than 40 years of research demonstrating that healthy adults can enjoy eggs without significantly impacting their risk of heart disease.

I like eggs.  I vote for everything in moderation on this one.  But having seen industrial egg facilities, I’m buying them from farmers’ markets these days—for reasons of food safety, animal welfare, and taste.

  • ken

    “They also must keep eggs cold.” In grocery stores in the UK eggs are not refrigerated, rather are on the shelves just like bread and rice and pasta and so on. I don’t get the sense that salmonella is a big problem here. What’s going on?

  • Dietary cholesterol is a non-problem. Even the great Fraud, Ancel Benjamin Keys, admitted as much.

    In fact, not getting enough (non-oxidized) cholesterol in your diet *is* a problem.

    I eat at least a dozen eggs per week, and my cholesterol numbers are just fine (without statins, thankyouverymuch).

  • “A recent Canadian study associates eating egg yolks with formation of plaques in coronary arteries.”

    I have an even stronger correllation for you: Between observational “studies” conducted by J. David Spencea, David J.A. Jenkinsb, and
    Jean Davignon — and incredibly Bad Science.

    It’s 1:1

  • Dr. Jay reports: Jenkins has collaborated in the past with Dr Neil Barnard, the PETA-affiliated vegan evangelist, who runs the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a thinly disguised vegan advocacy group.

  • Cathy Richards

    The Canadian study was poorly designed, poorly analyzed, and poorly reported. This blog has a good summary of the many short-comings. Eggs are healthy, affordable, versatile, and delicious. And I have nothing to do with the egg industry! Just a dietitian is all.

  • Russ

    I love eggs and eat nearly a dozen a week between scrambled eggs, omelets and fritatas. I’ve never had any issue with high cholesterol.

    My only issue is that it’s hard to decipher from the carton (and shelf labels at Trader Joes) what the code words mean – humanly raised, free range, cage free etc. I wish I knew what type of eggs I was buying.

  • Anthro

    I don’t refrigerate my eggs–but I get them out of my girls’ nests every day and use them or give them away within a few days. If I get too many, I do put them in the fridge after a couple of days. Three hens can produce quite a few eggs, actually, and we don’t eat more than a couple a week, so the neighbors get the bulk of them–for which they seem very grateful.

    I don’t leave a light on in the winter to make them lay, but the last of the fall eggs last for months in the fridge. I live on a city lot and my girls go outside every day–even in the snow. I give them worms from my worm bin in the winter and fresh green every day. The yolks of my eggs are a deep, rich orange and the taste is, well, awesome. You won’t eat store bought eggs anymore if you have one of my eggs.

    More and more cities are allowing three or four birds and I encourage you to raise hens if you really enjoy eggs. You will get the bonus of hours of entertainment as well! Three or four do not make much mess and once you get them to the pullet stage, there’s not much maintenance.

  • Truffle

    One study is pretty meaningless on its own. Are there a bunch of other studies? Does this study even pass scientific rigor?

  • Thanks for this, Marion. Here in Canada that study was reported with the headline ‘Eggs as bad for your cholesterol as Smoking,’ which seemed like ridiculous scare mongering to me (especially because I use eggs in most of my recipes!)

    Thanks for clearing this up.

  • On another subject on food safety: I saw a segment of Rossen Reports this morning regarding food reaching unsafe temperatures while being transported long distances across the country in trucks with little or no refrigeration. Apparently, Indiana police have been cracking down on these transporters but there are no federal regulations in place to ensure that food is being transported safely–quite disturbing considering the number of miles foods often travel before hitting our dinner table. I would love to see your response to this issue. The report can be found here:

  • Pingback: Which Came First: The Fear of Cholesterol or the Egg? « Emily Contois()

  • Cathy Richards

    Anthro – hope it’s okay that I posted your comment at

    I should have asked first! Let me know if you want me to delete it 🙂

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