Since the 1990s the relationship between Salmonella and eggs has been well documented and researched. You may remember the famous interview with Edwina Currie, the then Junior Heath Minister, for ITN. Her impromptu comment of “Most of the egg production in this country, sadly, is now infected with Salmonella.” Caused a national panic and resulted in eggs sales to drop by 60% almost overnight.
As you may already be aware, the ‘Lion Mark’ was re-instated in 1998. What you may not be aware of is what the logo is fully telling you. Most people see it as a sign of quality, which is true to a certain extent, but more importantly it demonstrates that the farm where the egg originates adheres to a stringent Code of Practice; The Lion Quality Code of Practice.
This Code of Practice includes the compulsory vaccination against Salmonella enteritidis along with full traceability of eggs, hens and feed, and periodic audits by an independent party. The British Egg Industry Council (BEIC) keep a database of all approved subscribers to the Lion mark scheme and if ever a farm is found to have any critical non-conformances they are immediately suspended from the scheme pending appropriate remedial action. In addition to this there are also financial penalties for critical non-conformities.
The only question is, is it working?
In 2001 the government’s advisory committee on the microbiological safety of food gave a resounding yes, stating that poultry vaccinations had reduced Salmonella cases by more than half. Further reports and investigations completed by the Food Standard Agency and Health Protection Agency also highlighted the quality of British Lion eggs. The 2004 investigation by the Heath Protection Agency they found 7% of imported eggs tested positive for Salmonella, whereas when the same quantity of Lion Marked eggs were tested no Salmonella was detected (www.lioneggs.co.uk/page/eggsafety). This does not mean that Salmonella has been eliminated from British eggs entirely though. Remember, though the Lion Mark scheme is effective, it is not ‘fool proof’ and some eggs may still contain Salmonella. In addition to this, only 85% of eggs produced in the UK meet the standards required by the Lion Mark scheme. During a survey completed by the European Food Safety Authority in 2007, 8% of commercial laying flock holdings were found to be infected with Salmonella enteritidis or Salmonella typhimurium.
By comparison however, the average for EU member states was 20.4% infected with several reporting more than 50%.
Regulations (EC) 1168/2005 and 2160/2003 were put into place to monitor and reduce Salmonella in poultry. The UK was set the target of 10% reduction each year over a three year period. The Control of Salmonella in Poultry Regulations 2008 enforces a National Control Programme for Laying Flocks that implements the requirements of the regulations.
The European Food Safety Authority now considers British eggs to be among the safest in the world. This does not mean we are able to start eating raw eggs risk free though and safety measures should always be implemented when using eggs whether Lion Mark approved or not.
- Keep eggs refrigerated – If salmonella is present, by keeping the eggs below 7°C slows down the rate at which they multiply.
- Buy from reputable suppliers – This helps ensure hygiene standards are met and that correct procedures are used.
- Never use cracked eggs – these are likely to now be contaminated as the shell is no longer protecting the eggs contents from external bacteria that maybe present, including Salmonella.
- Cook thoroughly – Heat is your best method for destroying Salmonella and other bacteria that maybe present.
- Once cooked serve/eat promptly – As with all other foods that have been cooked, strict time and temperature controls must be used to prevent any bacteria that may still be present from multiplying.
- Unused/left over foods that contain eggs must be refrigerated - strict time and temperature controls must be used to prevent any bacteria that may still be present from multiplying.
- Pasteurised eggs should be used for recipes requiring raw eggs e.g. Mayonnaise – Pasteurisation means the egg has been heat treated to eliminate any Salmonella bacteria present to a safer level.
- Use Lion Marked eggs – this is a simple control to ensure better product safety.
One factor however that cannot be avoided is the fact that all eggs on sale in the UK, both in shell egg and in other products such as cakes, are not always from the UK. Simple checks on the packaging and labelling of shell eggs will demonstrate that the egg was laid from a UK flock. This however, is not so simple when checking the ingredients of a pre made item such as a cake. It is therefore of major importance that all manufacturers take note of their egg suppliers accreditations and ensure that their products come from the best and safest sources.
For more information on Lion Branding, please visit the British Egg Industry Council website.