Some reform, some recycled policies, and something the bureaucracy could dust off and make new.   Those are among the comments that can be made about the recommendations made earlier this week by the President’s Food Safety Working Group.

The “new” are the “public health regulation(s) to improve egg safety and reduce salmonella illnesses.”  

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has published the “final rule” for the regulations in the Federal Register.   They will take effect on September 8, 2009; almost five years after they made their debut as a draft.

During the time between the “draft” and the “final” FDA rule, U.S. egg production has increased to 6.41 billion table eggs annually, up from about 6 billion five years ago. Americans are now eating 250 eggs per person per year, up from 234 five years ago.

And its fair to say, United Egg Producers –the industry association—has used the last five years to get egg farmers ready for tougher safety standards. The U.S. Department of Agriculture funded a UEP study that created the “5-Star” egg safety program. Its five critical points are:

  • Cleaning and Disinfecting of poultry houses
  • Eliminating pests and rodents.
  • Proper egg washing.
  • Biosecurity.
  • Refrigeration at 45 degrees F. from point of packing through delivery.

The “new” FDA rule would require egg producers to:

  • Buy chicks and young hens only from suppliers who monitor for Salmonella.
  • Establish rodent, pest control and biosecurity measures to prevent spread of bacteria throughout farm by people and equipment.
  • Conduct testing in the poultry house for Salmonella Entertidis. If the tests finding the bacterium, a representative sample of the eggs must be tested over an eight week time period (four tests at two week intervals); If any of the four egg tests is positive, the producer must further process eggs to destroy the bacteria or divert the eggs to non-food use.
  • Clean and disinfect poultry houses that have tested positive for Salmonella Enteritidis
  • Refrigerate eggs at 45 degrees Fahrenheit during storage and transportation no later than 36 hours after the eggs are laid.

Thus, in comparing the UEP “5-Star” list with the FDA’s new rule, the real difference between the two is the required sampling program. And as Seattle attorney Denis Stearns recently noted:

“Moreover, hard data does not exist with regard to the prevalence of Salmonella in eggs in the United States, making the estimates about potential savings and illness-reduction speculative at best. As the USDA Agricultural Research Service pointed out in a report issued in 2007:

“Market egg sampling data has never been collected in the United States on a national basis and no regional sampling data has been collected in 10 years. Salmonella outbreaks continue to be attributed to eggs and no progress has been made in several years in decreasing incidence.”

FDA estimates the new rule will cost egg producers $81 million a year or less than one cent per dozen eggs. The goal is to eliminate 79,000 Salmonella illnesses in humans annually; thereby preventing 30 deaths.   Health costs will be reduced by $1.4 billion annually, according to the FDA analysis.

Egg producers will more than 3,000 laying hens would be covered by the new regulations. FDA and USDA both regulate egg producers and the new regulations are touted as a coordinated strategy.