What? Chicken butt. Why there's salmonella in your eggs
August 24th, 2010
04:00 AM ET
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Here's the straight poop on how salmonella gets on and into eggs. You may first want to put down anything you're eating.

Salmonella enteritidis, at the center of the outbreak, is a bacterium - a microscopic, rod-shaped, living creature - that can exist either within or on the surface of a shell egg. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) it can be transmitted to the outside of the egg as it travels through feces on the chicken's cloaca - the posterior chamber through which solid waste, urine and eggs pass.

However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that while this was historically the primary cause of eggborne contamination, "stringent procedures for cleaning and inspecting eggs were implemented in the 1970s and have made salmonellosis caused by external fecal contamination of egg shells extremely rare."

Food can also be contaminated due to inattention to sanitary measures. As salmonella enteritidis is transmitted via feces - human in addition to avian, reptilian and other mammalian - insufficient hand washing after bathroom visits, diaper changes and pet handling and before food preparation can be a contributing factor.

In the case of this massive contamination, though, the CDC reports that the problem is coming from inside the eggs. Laying hens can be infected either by contact with human workers who have not followed proper sanitary procedures, or, more frequently, by consuming feed that has come into contact with rodent feces. Affected hens can transmit the bacteria from their ovaries or oviducts before the shell even forms around an egg, thus making the egg's tainted status undetectable.

The CDC also notes that an infected hen won't always lay a bad egg. She can produce many normal eggs while only occasionally laying one contaminated with salmonella enteritidis - making spot checking of flocks a difficult proposition. The FSIS also notes that it has no information supporting the claim that chickens labeled "Kosher," "free-range," "organic," or "natural" have more or less salmonella bacteria than other poultry.

Egg-splained: Free-range, cage-free and organic

This doesn't mean that omelets are forever off the menu. Salmonella enteritidis can be killed by pasteurization or by heating the egg throughout to a temperature of 160°F, but if it is ingested without one of these treatments, it can affect the human intestinal tract.

The CDC reports that people in a normal state of health who ingest salmonella enteritidis-tainted food may experience diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps, which typically begin within 12 to 72 hours. The Mayo Clinic notes that this may be accompanied by vomiting, chills, headache and muscle pains. These symptoms may last about four to seven days, and then go away without specific treatment.

Children, the elderly, and people with compromised immune symptoms should practice extreme egg caution, as the Food and Drug Administration reports that salmonellosis may lead to severe illness, arthritis, or even death.

Avoid bad eggs and crack open these safety tips from CNN Health.

See all egg recall information on Eatocracy and full coverage on CNN Health

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Filed under: Business and Farming News • Eggs • Farms • FDA • Health News • News • Recalls • Salmonella • Tainted Food

soundoff (45 Responses)
  1. NJgal

    I buy my eggs from a reputable small farm in PA. I make my own mayonnaise, use raw egg in Caesar salad and occasionally throw a raw egg into a shake. I've never had any problems but then again, I have my sources of probiotics to keep my immune system healthy such as homemade kefir, kombucha, ginger beer and lacto-fermented sodas.

    August 25, 2010 at 9:15 am |
  2. Joe, San Diego

    Meow, meow, just show more pics of kitty Kat Kinsman I am a mean ol' nasty alley cat... milk is for babies, cream is for cats but beer is for adults

    August 24, 2010 at 10:17 pm |
  3. publius enigma

    I knew it. The only reason why several farms would have a simultaneous contamination problem is if they all bought the same feed. Investigate who they bought feed from.

    August 24, 2010 at 6:26 pm |
  4. OldGuy

    There was a time in this country when one could eat their eggs in any way they desired. To this day, if you eat at the breakfast buffet in the Tokyo Disneyland HIlton, you can find a huge tray of slightly runny scrambled eggs. They will be delicious! Sukiyaki is always accompanied by a raw egg scrambled to make a dip. Not just in Japan, but in other countries, you can eat chicken that's been cooked to 140 deg F. It's so buttery soft, it doesn't seem like meat. And we wonder why nobody wants to import our agricultural products. Why should the consumer have to change the way they cook and eat to serve a dirty industry? The industry should be giving us products that meet our demands. I used to think that food is just more expensive elsewhere. But the sad truth is that it's no longer cheaper here. And now we have to cook everything to be well-done, or it's our fault if we get sick. This is what progress has brought us? No, I think that it's greed and an insensitivity to the needs of the customer that has brought us to bad food and unsatisfying diets.

    August 24, 2010 at 4:52 pm |
  5. Taylor

    Just buy pasteurized shell eggs and you will have no problmes. Like the article said, pasteurization kills bacteria inlcuding salmonella. This makes them completely safe to use in any recipe, even raw. I'm buying them from now on because I love sunny side up eggs with the runny yolk which is undercooked meaning I'm risking getting salmonella. And yes chicken have salmonella all the time we just cook it out before eating. And while I try to buy certain things organic I do not think that makes eggs any safer because salmonella is a natural organism...

    August 24, 2010 at 3:50 pm |
    • RichardHead

      Yes Taylor-Please remember me in your will.R.I.P. O.K. just kidding-tried these before and they have no taste. Some of us guys actually try to bake{between cuss words and burnt fingers},yet the cakes or bread taste so bland. If my "Momma" was still alive she would hit me on the head and say"Dangit Richard-Fresh Eggs"! Mom was always right.

      August 24, 2010 at 4:23 pm |
  6. Pat Jenkins

    I haven't heard anything addressed about the chickens we eat. If the eggs are infected, what about the ones that are fertilized for chickens?

    August 24, 2010 at 3:00 pm |
    • publius enigma

      Dont eat raw chicken either.

      August 24, 2010 at 6:29 pm |
  7. Matt

    Or you could buy your eggs from a farmer who doesn't have them rolling in their own feces. Go find a farm where the chickens lay their eggs in a nice clean nest box, and not through the bottom of the same cage that they poop through. Get in touch with your food. Take the power away from the big conglomorates by voting with your dollars. Support your local farmers. Don't avoid the meat/eggs/dairy, just find a farmer who cares about the quality and reputation of his product more than the quantity of eggs or how much money he can make.

    August 24, 2010 at 3:00 pm |
    • SixDegrees

      Uh – did you read the article above? Washing takes care of all but the tiniest fraction of external salmonella contaminations. The main problem is with contaminated feed, something that is as likely if not more likely to occur at a small, local farm where rodent control can be lax and feed turnover is slower.

      It would make more sense to find a large, corporate agribusiness that cares about the quality and reputation of their product than trying to sort through dozens or hundreds of smaller, less well trained locals with far fewer resources they can bring to bear on such problems, and who are far more likely to let a few bad eggs slide through if it means a couple more bucks in their pockets.

      August 24, 2010 at 3:14 pm |
      • Matt

        @SixDeg – So a huge agribusiness (whom you are obviously a shill for) that loses one customer is better than a local farmer who loses one customer, and their reputation, and most likely their business. Have you ever been to a farm? The problem is no one will ever change the way you think, because you don't want to change. Luckily for me, I have seen the light, and it is on a sunny, open farm field and not in a huge building with 1000,000 hens and full of fecal dust. You just go on with you delusions that it's the feed and I pray you never have a first hand encounter with the side-effects caused by a "caring" agribusiness.

        August 25, 2010 at 7:03 am |
      • NJgal

        I totally agree with Matt. SixDegrees, why don't you educate yourself by visiting http://www.themeatrix.com/

        August 25, 2010 at 9:03 am |
  8. kme

    Why didn't they just do an informational article like this one to tell ppl they must wash and fully cook their eggs. ??? I don't know of a lot of ppl who eat them raw other than body-builders.

    August 24, 2010 at 1:29 pm |
    • Kat Kinsman

      The risk isn't just with raw - it's with undercooked eggs. That includes sunny side up eggs, runny omelets, many meringues, tiramisu, classic Caesar dressing, Bearnaise sauce - we did a list the other day.


      August 24, 2010 at 2:27 pm |
      • RichardHead

        Good article Kat,,yet another Blogger raised a very good question concerning the eggs used to produce the Flu Vacine.You don't think our Government would get a discounted price on eggs from these 2 Big egg producers-do ya? Just wondering.

        August 24, 2010 at 3:29 pm |
      • RichardHead

        Gee Kat-Tough day,left the office early? No answer to the question like all the other news organizations? Tried to throw you a Milk Bone while wearing Brown Shoes.

        August 24, 2010 at 6:24 pm |
      • Kat Kinsman

        Nope, Richard – still here.

        Juuuust in case you didn't run across them, we're also running a lot of content about raising your own backyard chickens, etc. Lot to cover on this subject. Can't get to every single comment right away.

        August 24, 2010 at 6:52 pm |
      • RichardHead

        Thank you for replying yet my question was not answered. Fluff pieces are all over the internet including YOUR Eggspurt who also has not answered this question.

        August 24, 2010 at 7:15 pm |
      • Kat Kinsman

        Richard, I'm not totally understanding your question. You seem to be laying out a hypothetical. What exactly are you asking?

        August 24, 2010 at 8:12 pm |
      • RichardHead

        Kat-You wrote the article and I am assuming you did your homework on the two egg producers{i.e.Family Farms} that are currently making headlines across the United States.NO Hypo question is involved. As you work for a news organization the question is a very yes or no-or as they say{Who.What.Where and When}-Are the eggs from these two producers involved in the production or manufacture of our current and future "Flu Vaccine"? Very simple and I appreciate you taking the time to answer me.

        August 24, 2010 at 8:37 pm |
      • Kat Kinsman

        Ah. Got it. That was not what this article was about, so I didn't cover. I will see what I can find out.

        August 24, 2010 at 8:39 pm |
      • RichardHead

        Thanks so much. This is a question that needs to be answered and since YOU wrote an excellent article on it-I now Bow down to you for the technical answers. Please have an excellent evening and slap your editor upside the head for me.

        August 24, 2010 at 8:56 pm |
      • Kat Kinsman

        The vaccine eggs appear to be from Pennsylvania farms, rather than Iowa, where the recalls occurred.

        August 24, 2010 at 10:48 pm |
      • RichardHead

        Thank You Kat.

        August 24, 2010 at 11:25 pm |
    • JP

      Body-builders eating raw eggs? You've watched Rocky too many times. No serious body builder eats raw eggs. Whey protein and cooked chicken breasts, ok. Raw eggs? You've seen too many movies.

      August 24, 2010 at 10:46 pm |
  9. Jill

    Are there really that many people eating raw eggs? I don't know why anyone would do that. If you do, please tell me why. I'm not kidding, I really want to know.

    August 24, 2010 at 1:00 pm |
    • Raw Eggs

      There are some dishes that require the eggs to be raw, like steak tartare. I don't think many people just go in the kitchen and crack open an egg and eat it straight, but the raw egg can really be tasty in a dish, or in a sauce.

      Also, lots of people bake things like cookies and cakes and eat the batter before it's cooked. When you eat cookie dough raw, there's always the risk of salmonella, which is why, for awhile, cookie dough ice cream was off the market.

      I also think part of it is less the eating of totally raw eggs, and more undercooked. Many people like soft boiled, over easy or over medium eggs, which even though mostly cooked, doesn't completely kill off the bacteria.

      August 24, 2010 at 1:17 pm |
      • Jill

        Thank you for your response. That makes more sense.
        The reason I was thinking people are eating raw eggs is because I was watching CNN over the weekend and they had an expert on. The reporter was asking him how to avoid getting sick and he was saying to not put raw eggs into milkshakes or to drink them like in the Rocky movies.

        August 24, 2010 at 1:37 pm |
      • Raw Eggs

        Haha. That image makes me laugh. I guess I never thought people actually cracked a half dozen eggs into a blender and drank it. Shows how much I know. :)

        August 24, 2010 at 1:51 pm |
      • Rex

        Mayonnaise is made from raw eggs as well

        August 24, 2010 at 2:26 pm |
      • Walrus

        To clarify, store bought mayo does NOT contain raw shell eggs. It contains pasteurized liquid egg. Misinformation is fueling the fire...and fears.

        August 24, 2010 at 10:02 pm |
    • Vicki

      French Vanilla Ice cream. One of the differences between its recipe and that of regular vanilla is more raw eggs.

      August 25, 2010 at 10:16 am |
  10. Nice.

    Now, see, THIS is the type of article that might sway me into staying away from eggs.

    August 24, 2010 at 12:17 pm |
  11. Lucy

    This is ludicris. Cook your eggs properly to kill the bacteria. Case closed.

    August 24, 2010 at 11:03 am |
    • RichardHead

      Wait a minute! I thought you were a Rap singer or a Hip-Hop artist. When did you change your name to Lucy?

      August 24, 2010 at 12:09 pm |
      • Tammy

        Richard, your comment at 12:09 was quite funny!

        August 24, 2010 at 2:11 pm |
  12. Greg

    My mother told me not to swear in church,
    My mother also told me chickens carry salmonella
    and if you dont wash your hands or cook your eggs right you might get sick.

    August 24, 2010 at 10:29 am |
  13. RichardHead

    After extensive research of the FDA rules and regulations this is how the inspections are being handled. Only Female Inspectors are allowed in the Hen Houses. She will shout at the top of her lungs"O.K. Ladies-Bend over,Butt Inspection Time"! Those that do not comply are immediately sent to the Cluck Cluck Chicken Truck and transported to Sen.Stupaks office in Washington to testify before the Commission.

    August 24, 2010 at 10:10 am |
  14. Dori

    Best headline ever

    August 24, 2010 at 9:01 am |
    • Kat Kinsman

      Thank you. Thank you very much.

      August 24, 2010 at 9:13 am |
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