Its hard to imagine a more common food item being the cause of so many illnesses, but the recall of over 200 million eggs reminds us that food poisoning can only be avoided when companies engage in good manufacturing practices and individuals practice good personal hygiene. The failures in sanitation and food production at Rose Acres remain the focus of the investigation – but it is clear that yet unidentified problems existed that led to the spread of Salmonella Braenderup (one of more than twenty-two hundred strains of the bacteria). Investigators will review the company’s commitment to HACCP (hazard analysis critical control points) and evaluate how closely it followed, or failed to follow, good manufacturing practices. Salmonella is a pathogen that is transmitted through feces, and that means that feces were on the eggs that the victims consumed. Feces are naturally a part of egg production, which is why it is important to control salmonella in the chicken laying facilities, and in areas where the eggs are washed, stored, and packaged. Good Manufacturing Procedures also include preventing pests like insects or rodents from infuriating production area.
The simple truth is that eggs that are fit for human consumption should not spread Salmonella. Proper production and handling should prevent anyone from becoming ill.
That said, the contamination of an egg is not that uncommon, and there have been numerous outbreaks linked to egg consumption even in recent decades. Some consumers only purchase pasteurized eggs, while others eat only free-range eggs (arguably, though not established, less likely to be contaminated by Salmonella or other bacteria). But most of the remaining consumers simply trust their local grocery store to provide clean eggs. And they are correct to do so because under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, it is illegal to sell or distribute food containing an adulterant. Salmonella is an adulterant. In the same way that grocers are relied upon to provide clean eggs, so to consumers trust the restaurants they eat at. Interestingly enough, restaurants, unlike grocers, also have several opportunities to wash the eggs they prepare to prevent shell salmonella contamination (bacteria on the outside of the shell) as well as to prepare eggs in a manner that prevents communication of salmonella – such as thoroughly cooking all eggs and posting warnings to consumers who choose to eat eggs that are only partially cooked.
Following the expensive recall by Rose Acres, of all the eggs it produced at is Hyde County, North Carolina facility, and the legal exposure (Rose Acre will likely face numerous Salmonella lawsuits in the next few years), there will be impetus to reevaluate egg production safety by every producer in the United States. That is the nature of the free market system. The insurers will also likely put pressure on their insured to double down on good manufacturing practices and to reevaluate the effectiveness of HACCP in place at those production facilities.
It remains unclear how many people will eventually be identified as victims in this outbreak, but one thing is clear, the number of identified victims will be a very small fraction of the number of individuals who have gotten sick. The CDC estimates that only one in thirty of the victims is ever identified in an average outbreak.