I was brought up to believe that one of the most sterile foods, one of the longest lasting in the fridge was the ubiquitous egg. As a hiker, I still remember that an egg can be taken with you in an unrefrigerated state for as long as two weeks and still be safe to eat! So, how is it that they can harbor harmful bacteria? Inside?
In days gone by, I was aware that very rarely an egg could become contaminated with Salmonella enteritidis. A nasty bacterium that is actually not all that uncommon in the environment. Persons who become infected with the microbe will experience Salmonella-induced gastroenteritis which includes the same symptoms as one might experience with a bad case of the flu. It is a commonly found in chickens, cattle, pigs, ducks, dogs, and cats. Salmonella has been found on meats, in water and on the surface of fruits vegetables and cheese. In most cases the spread of the organism was due to improper handling and disposal of fecal matter from both humans and animals. This was also the case with eggs until the 1970’s when stringent measures were undertaken to cleanse eggs prior to going to market. However, apparently more and more eggs are becoming infected from the inside due to the bug getting into the ovaries of the hens. During the 1980s, illness related to contaminated eggs occurred most frequently in the northeastern United States, but now infection is increasing in other parts of the country as well. The question is why is this so?
In one of my previous blogs, I wrote about CAFO’s or Concentrated Animal Feed Operations. These are mega farms where literally millions of animals, including hens, are maintained in crowded, unsanitary conditions. (A situation that many feel is inhumane with activists groups now pushing for new regulations). In order to stem infection in such conditions, animals are often fed or sprayed with antibiotics. A practice that puts the microbes under intense stress. When this happens some may become more resistant while other may explore new niches where they can exist. While pure speculation on my part, I have to wonder if ‘AS’ or antibiotic stress is causing an upward spike in the number of eggs that are becoming compromised due to increasing numbers of chickens with infected ovaries. If true, then this problem could become endemic here in the United States and could force many producers to pasteurize their eggs prior to shipment. This will force the cost of this very essential food to climb rapidly upwards and would impact the cost of many items in the grocery store which contain egg products.