Egg Food Safety

Eggs pose a unique food-safety problem because they can be contaminated internally with the pathogenic bacteria Salmonella enterica Serovar Enteriti-dis (SE). If SE infects the reproductive tracts of laying hens, it can be deposited in the eggs during formation. In addition to internal egg contamination by SE, eggshells can be contaminated with a number of microorganisms. Caution is required when selecting eggs for consumption. Only clean eggs should be consumed. Vaccinating hens against salmonella, together with temperature control, proper handling, and cooking are important control measures to reduce the incidence of SE illness.

When SE internally contaminates an egg, it is thought to be deposited at the yolk membrane in the egg white. The integrity of the vitelline membrane is very important in preventing SE from entering the yolk, where it could grow very rapidly in the nutrient-rich environment. The egg white has natural antimicrobial compounds, such as lysozyme, that help prevent SE from growing.

In naturally contaminated eggs, scientists have documented that between 10 and 100 cells of SE may be deposited in an egg. The bacterial cell count will remain low unless the egg is exposed to temperatures that would allow rapid growth of SE or the vitelline membrane breaks down. Even when flocks are infected with SE, only a small percentage of the eggs produced will contain SE. Properly cooking eggs to a temperature of 63 °C for 3min, 65 °C for 1min, or 70 °C for 1s will destroy SE if it is present in an egg.

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