An Australian egg farmer who investigators say is at the center of a recent salmonella outbreak in the Sydney area has offered up a defense while speaking to the Sunday Telegraph: “It’s not my fault, bro.”
At the time of this writing, the outbreak had sickened some 23 people who had consumed eggs bought at supermarkets and retailers in and around Australia’s largest city. The Glendenning Farms Brownshell eggs were supplied by a company called Eggz On The Run. The Food Authority of New South Wales and the New South Wales Health Department were able to determine that the salmonella cases were linked in a cluster and traced them back to the supplier in question.
The Sunday Telegraph went to Glendenning Farms, located in a village south of Sydney called Cobbitty. While there, they spoke to the owner, who vigorously denied his involvement in the salmonella outbreak.
His theory? The salmonella didn’t come from his own birds. Instead, the blame lay squarely with fowl that were non-native to Australia. “Some birds have been flying in from overseas, landed on the shed and chucked a s**t,” he told the Telegraph.
The farmer went on to assert that the Food Authority agreed that it wasn’t his fault. Take a visit to the NSW Food Authority and there is a statement about the outbreak and recall. It describes the effect of salmonella and the potentially contaminated eggs in question, although it doesn’t go so far as to definitively assign or absolve any blame.
Speaking to the Telegraph, the lawyer for distribution company Eggs on the Run made similar assertions with a little less color. The strain of salmonella in question, he said, was from overseas, and there was no certainty yet as to how it got there, or who was responsible.
The company is undertaking a voluntary recall of the eggs – both of the lot suspected to be infected and similarly brown shell eggs with best by dates running up to the 1st of October. The New South Wales Health Authority has also put an order in place to restrict permitted activity at the farm in question and to require them to systematically disinfect their production facilities and equipment.
Recalled items should be thrown away, according to NSW Health, or returned to the place that they were purchased for a refund in full. Proof of purchase is not required to be refunded.
Salmonella is a common and recurring problem with eggs, and outbreaks crop up periodically around the world. News of Australia’s outbreak broke concurrently with a similar event on the other side of the globe that affected egg consumers in Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee.
Salmonella causes flu-like symptoms that typically manifest six to 72 hours after exposure to the bacteria. Once the illness has started, it usually lasts for four to seven days Headaches, nausea, muscle aches, fever, chills, and diarrhea are all par the course for a bout.
For a healthy adult, a case of salmonella is unpleasant but typically doesn’t pose a serious danger. That’s not the story for everyone, however. The very young, the very old, and the immunocompromised are all at risk of seeing a salmonella infection spiral out into something more serious. For these groups, cases can lead to an illness serious enough to warrant hospitalization. Deaths are relatively rare but not unheard of. In Australia, Salmonella and fellow repeat offender Listeria cause more fatalities than any other foodborne illnesses at an average of 15 a year.
How does salmonella find its way onto and into the eggs of chickens? There are a number of different vectors. Chickens who carry the bacteria might not appear sick, but they are nonetheless what’s referred to in the literature as “reservoirs” – sources in which the bacteria can multiply and spread. They’ll regularly shed salmonella bacteria, dispersing it through their environment.
Eggs can become infected with salmonella through the laying process, according to the CDC. The bacteria might also reach the egg through alternative means – through bedding that’s contaminated, for example, or if the egg comes into contact with feed that carries the bacteria. The shell of the egg is porous enough for bacteria to pass through, so they can get inside once they’ve been deposited on the surface. If the egg is washed in cold water, bacteria can get “pulled in” along with the water that’s used for washing.
The affinity of salmonella bacteria for chicken eggs is precisely the reason why you’re not supposed to eat raw cookie dough – and the reason you feel a bit guilty when you inevitably do (don’t worry, we occasionally sneak bites as well). Aside from giving up raw cookie dough, however, what can you do to avoid salmonella? The first and most important step is one that goes into pretty much every food safety article: remember to wash your hands. That means 20 seconds with hot water and plenty of soap, getting some good friction going with vigorous rubbing and not neglecting to reach the spots between your fingers or the backs. Also, remember to be cautious about foods that have uncooked egg in them, and remember to cook your own eggs thoroughly enough to boil away any unwanted salmonella bacteria.
Aside from that, there’s a couple steps that you can take with regards to eggs specifically. Examine them before cooking; throw out any that are cracked or otherwise compromised. If they have dirt, gently brush it off. And remember to wash your hands both before and after handling the eggs – otherwise, you might accidentally transfer some salmonella to something else that you’re doing. And that would be your fault … bro.
By: Sean McNulty, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)