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FDA adopts new rules to improve egg safety and reduce Salmonella illness as part of overhaul of food system

As one of the Obama administration’s first sweeping reforms to improve food safety, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced yesterday new rules on egg production.

The rules are expected to prevent 79,000 cases of foodborne illness and 30 deaths each year caused by eating eggs contaminated with the bacterium Salmonella enteritidis.


The rule requires measures to prevent contamination of eggs in poultry houses and requires refrigeration of eggs during storage and transportation.

Egg-associated illness caused by Salmonella is a serious public health problem, the FDA reported in its announcement about the new rule.

Infected individuals may suffer mild to severe gastrointestinal illness, short-term or chronic arthritis, or even death, according to the FDA. Carrying out the preventive measures would reduce the number of Salmonella enteritidis infections from eggs by nearly 60 percent.

Salmonella enteritidis can be found inside eggs that look normal. If the eggs are eaten raw or undercooked, the bacterium can cause illness. Eggs in the shell become contaminated on the farm, primarily because of infection in the laying hens.

See the announcement for what the new rules require of egg producers.

The FDA estimates that the egg rule would provide $1.4 billion in annual public health benefits, at an annual cost of $81 million to the egg industry, or less than 1 cent per dozen eggs produced in the United States.

Consumer groups and the industry support the new rule, but expressed concerns that it took federal agencies more than 20 years to adopt the procedures.

Even when research showed that chickens chronically infected with salmonella laid eggs laced with the bacteria, which does no harm to the birds but can sicken and kill humans, government agencies debated which agency should take the lead in regulatory action, reports the article “U.S. Moves to Improve Safety of Eggs and Other Foods” on

The Obama administration proposes to overhaul of the food system to ensure the safety of other problem foods – spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, melons, beef, and chicken, the article also states.

Proposals include:

  • U.S. Department of Agriculture – Development of new standards to reduce Salmonella levels in chickens and turkeys.
  • Food and Drug Administration – Advice for the food industry on how to prevent contamination of tomatoes, melons, spinach, and lettuce.
  • Food and Drug Administration – Advice about how farmers, wholesalers, and retailers can build systems to trace contaminated foods quickly from shelf to field.

Although food safety is a priority for the Obama administration and American consumers, it’s likely to take years to develop this new regulatory structure.

Copyright 2009, Rita R. Robison, Consumer Specialist


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