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Of Eggs and Outbreaks

Posted in Outbreaks & Recalls,Salmonella on May 13, 2018

Like most Americans, eggs have always been an important part of my diet. Scrambled. Fried. Hard-boiled. Deviled. I love them in many different ways from different types of birds. Duck eggs being among my favorites.

But eggs hold a special place in my heart, not just my plate. Because I am the granddaughter of a poultry and egg farmer.

Bird Raising and Egg Picking, A Family History

Raising poultry and eggs go back generations in my mother’s side of the family. Growing up, Grandpa’s father (my great grandfather) raised pigs, chickens, and ducks in Minnesota. In my youth, my grandfather had every bird from silkie chickens to pigeons, from geese to ducks, as well as the occasional turkey and pheasant. He even had a peacock and a peahen for a while I was in middle school.

Since before I could walk, I have played with chickens and ducklings. I have been chased by geese and have gobbled with turkeys. I’ve cried the tears of a child who dared name a rooster that was later served for dinner during a Sunday family meal. I have, on more than one occasion, lovingly thanked a hen for her eggs, as I gently removed them from her nest and put them into my plastic Easter basket. I’ve spread seed and made bird feed.

One of my last and fondest memories with my grandfather centered around making a turducken – well, technically a “turgoosen” – on a very cold Las Vegas morning the day before Thanksgiving. He had raised the three birds for months to prepare them for our meal. We talked of bird farming, de-boning, and how proud he was of his flocks. As we sat there, with only the warmth of the smoker he was preparing outside, I saw what everyone hopes for in the ones they love. I saw a man with passion. A man who truly loved what he did.

And our meal that year was one of the best I remember having in my life.

Egg Safety is Simple, Even a Teenager Can Do It

My mother, like me, is a worry wart. She and I prefer the term “cautious” instead of “anxiety ridden.” We both just want our kids (and others) to be safe. So, it is no surprise that early in my life I learned the proper care and feeding of poultry.

“The birds stay outside, Candess. They are happy in their coops.”

“Sweetie, did you wash your hands after you collected Henrietta and the girls’ eggs?”

“Candess, leave your shoes outside. They are dirty from being near the birds. We do not want to get germs into the house.”

The list goes on and on.

My mother and grandfather were always quick to remind me that poultry are animals and that animals have germs. My grandfather always washed the eggs before he stored them in the refrigerator and always washed his hands after. He never allowed us to eat undercooked eggs either. He always reminded me that uncooked eggs could make you sick. Salmonella was a common word I heard when it came to germs and birds.

It was the summer of my junior year of high school that Grandpa allowed my friends, my sister, and I to come to his ranch for an evening bonfire. We arrived early, because Las Vegas city kids love the idea of seeing a ranch. After my sister and I gave them a quick poultry and egg safety lesson, the lot of us went to work cleaning the coops, feeding the birds, and collecting eggs. In return, Grandpa had made us a bonfire, complete with roasted pork and s’mores. A wonderful reward for helping an elderly man tend to his chores.

What Does Your Story Have to Do with the Egg Outbreak?

For egg farmers, food safety is not optional. It is mandatory. Grandpa did not call it “food safety” back then, but cleanliness and good hygienic practices were always implied and practiced. You were not allowed to be near the birds unless you understood that.

Today, I find myself in the middle investigating an outbreak of Salmonella Braenderup illnesses that have affected several of our firm clients. The causes for the outbreak were released by the Food and Drug Administration recently. Among them were rodent infestations, poor conditions of chicken coops, and a general lack of proper sanitization, to name only a few. Now, I know better than the next girl that chickens are messy. But if Grandpa was alive, he would tell me that someone needed a talking to about keeping it clean.

And rightfully so.

There are 35 linked cases of Salmonella in 9 states linked to its outbreak. Several recalls have been initiated, trying to recover over 200 million eggs that were sent to the retail marketplace. This is one of the largest recalls of eggs since the Wright County Farms recall in 2010. Other countries also received those tainted eggs and have initiated warnings of their own. More cases may be linked and case counts may grow.

But we have been here before. The FDA made the Egg Safety Rule in response of outbreaks like this. Proposed in 2004, the rule was live on the FDA’s website in 2009. They were provided to the world in 2010 during the Wright County Egg outbreak. The information is still there even as I finish this post. The proposal was simple:

“…[to] set out several measures to be taken by egg producers to prevent the contamination of shell eggs with [Salmonella] during egg production, such as implementation of biosecurity and pest control programs, environmental and egg testing requirements, and requirements concerning refrigerated storage of eggs at the farm and diversion from the table egg market of eggs from flocks in which [Salmonella] has been detected…”

In short, practice good food safety behaviors to ensure your consumers do not get sick.

There are many more items outlined and described in the entire 73–page document, but I am sure you get where I am coming from. Like Grandpa always taught me, we cannot cut corners where birds, eggs, and germs are concerned. Because they can (and will) make you sick.

What Can I Do as a Consumer?

We are fortunate to know what farm is implicated, who packaged the eggs, and where they went. You don’t need to be a chicken farmer (or the granddaughter of one) to protect your family. During the recall, it is a good idea to check your eggs to see if yours are even included. You can check your eggs against the recall list here. As always, handwashing, cooking your eggs to the proper cooking temperatures, storing them properly, and sterilizing all food preparation and storage surfaces are good ideas. These practices will help reduce the likelihood of foodborne illness and help stop outbreaks.

As my grandfather and mother would say, “you want pepper on your breakfast, not germs.”

By: Candess Zona-Mendola, Senior Trial Paralegal