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04th March 2016

Would your service users enjoy a runny egg with toast soldiers?

Many of us are likely to remember the public outcry over the egg and Salmonella crisis. Can you believe it is almost 30 years since Edwina Currie made her infamous statement around the high level of eggs infected with Salmonella in the UK? However news this week indicates that eggs no longer present the food poisoning risk of the past.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has long-standing advice that vulnerable groups should avoid raw (for example in a home-made mayonnaise) or lightly cooked (as in a soft boiled) eggs. But a new report by Government food safety advisors has concluded that British Lion eggs can safely be eaten runny, even by pregnant women, young children and elderly people.

How did this report come about?

Last year, the FSA sought the advice of the Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food (ACMSF) on whether the risk to consumers (including vulnerable groups) from eating lightly cooked or raw eggs has changed since the Committee reviewed the subject of Salmonella in eggs in detail in 2001.

ACMSF is a scientific advisory committee that provides the Food Standards Agency with independent advice. This helps the Agency ensure that consumer advice in relation to the microbiological safety of food is based on sound science.

Ad Hoc Group on Eggs Draft Report

The aptly named Ad Hoc Group on Eggs was formed for this extensive review. Their draft report includes:-

  • Information on changes in Salmonella in eggs from 2001;
  • Foodborne disease outbreaks linked to eggs and egg products;
  • Consumption patterns of eggs in the UK;
  • Storage handling and use of eggs;
  • Interventions related to laying hens, chickens, ducks, quail and any other;
  • Review of past risk assessment model;
  • Role of different Salmonella serovars (strains) in egg contamination.

The report acknowledges the significant efforts undertaken to reduce Salmonella enteritidis in laying hens, which has made a significant impact in reducing the levels of Salmonella infections in humans. The group agreed that there had been a major reduction in the microbiological risk from Salmonella in UK hens’ eggs since the 2001 report, especially for those eggs produced under the Lion Code scheme or a demonstrably-equivalent comprehensive scheme such as the Laid in Britain Quality Assurance Scheme.

The group therefore suggests that the risk level from hens eggs produced under the Lion Code scheme (or a demonstrably equivalent scheme) can be regarded as very low, whilst for other eggs the risk level should be considered low. They further suggest that the FSA’s advice to consumers should be amended for hens’ eggs produced under the Lion Code scheme to reflect that such eggs can be served raw or lightly cooked even to vulnerable groups including pregnant women, the young and elderly. However this recommendation is not intended to include severely immunocompromised individuals such as those who are undergoing transplant treatment.

What is the Lion Code for eggs?

The Lion Code is the British Lion Quality mark, a registered trademark that can only be used by on eggs which have been produced in accordance with UK and EU law and the British Lion Quality Code of Practice. This scheme includes compulsory vaccination against Salmonella enteritidis of all pullets destined for Lion egg-producing flocks, independent auditing, improved traceability of eggs and a ‘best-before’ date stamped on the shell and pack, as well as on-farm and packing station hygiene controls.

Approximately 85% of UK eggs are now produced to British Lion Quality standards.

Can eggs be served raw or lightly cooked in care homes?

Although not in unanimous agreement the group largely agreed that the ‘very low’ risk level means that eggs produced under the Lion Code, or produced under demonstrably equivalent comprehensive schemes, can be served raw or lightly cooked to all groups including not only those that are more vulnerable to infection in domestic settings, but also in commercial settings, including care homes and hospitals. The main point of contention here was whether using large pools of Lion certified raw or lightly cooked eggs in hospital and care home catering may change the level of risk – this is in part due to the susceptibility of cross contamination in use of such large pools in catering settings.

The group though did universally agree that existing FSA advice should remain for UK  eggs not produced under the Lion Quality mark (or equivalent) and non UK eggs, as well as non-hens’ eggs (e.g. duck, goose, quail). For such eggs, the group advice is still that young, elderly, pregnant women and those that are unwell should not consume these eggs raw or lightly cooked.

In any case it's important for consumers and caterers to be aware of the need to store and handle eggs properly, to observe use by dates and to avoid cross contamination of eggs within the kitchen environment, where eggs will be consumed raw or lightly cooked.

It is also important to remember that this is a draft report, and not yet official government advice. There will now be a 12-week public consultation on the ACMSF’s report, after which the FSA will decide whether to change the advice.

Nutrients in eggs include high quality protein, vitamin D, selenium, choline and omega-3 fatty acids (in omega-3 enriched eggs).

Service users may delight to know that they may soon be able to  enjoy a traditional soft-boiled egg again,  but of course eggs can currently be served in care homes and enjoyed by vulnerable groups but should be thoroughly cooked.

Ayela Spiro, British Nutrition Foundation – QCS Expert Nutrition Contributor

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