Saturday, February 25, 2017

Eggs in the Refrigerator

Why do we have to refrigerate our eggs in North America, but they don't in Europe? It has to do with whether those eggs are washed. In north America government requires eggs to be washed. In Europe government prohibits eggs from being washed. Here is the rationale from the FDA:
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced a regulation expected to prevent each year approximately 79,000 cases of foodborne illness and 30 deaths caused by consumption of eggs contaminated with the bacterium Salmonella Enteritidis.
The regulation requires preventive measures during the production of eggs in poultry houses and requires subsequent refrigeration during storage and transportation.
Egg-associated illness caused by Salmonella is a serious public health problem. Infected individuals may suffer mild to severe gastrointestinal illness, short term or chronic arthritis, or even death. Implementing the preventive measures would reduce the number of Salmonella Enteritidis infections from eggs by nearly 60 percent.
Here we have the rationale from some European legislators:
In general, eggs should not be washed or cleaned because such practices can cause damage to the egg shell, which is an effective barrier to bacterial ingress with an array of antimicrobial properties. However, some practices, such as the treatment of eggs with ultra-violet rays, should not be interpreted as constituting a cleaning process. Moreover, Class A eggs should not be washed because of the potential damage to the physical barriers, such as the cuticle, which can occur during or after washing. Such damage may favour trans-shell contamination with bacteria and moisture loss and thereby increase the risk to consumers, particularly if subsequent drying and storage conditions are not optimal.
This is from an intriguing article written by Jeffrey Tucker.

My first thought is that 30 deaths a year is not a large number. 79,000 cases of foodborne illness is a large number, but since only .04% of those people are dying I'm suspicious that the technical definition of foodborne illness matches the severity of what comes to mind when us layfolk hear it. When I hear foodborne illness I think of something fairly serious, but more often than not it may amount to nothing more than a tummyache.

As I read more about foodborne illness my suspicions become more and more validated. Consider this from the Center of Disease Control and Prevention:
48 million foodborne illness cases occur in the United States every year. At least 128,000 Americans are hospitalized, and 3,000 die after eating contaminated food.
 Soooooo, out of 48 million foodborne illnesses, 47,872,000 never even bother to go to the hospital, and 47,997,000 go on to live another day.

That doesn't sound so bad.

My second thought after reading the article is that my fast thinking system (system 1) wants to say that the washing eggs prevent some problems, not washing eggs prevent some other problems, and it's all a big tradeoff.

But if you think about it, the North American way of doing things is far superior for public health. By washing the eggs they prevent Salmonella. But what about the European rationale that damaging the eggshell which is a barrier to bacteria? That's why they're refrigerated! I think Jeffrey Tucker overlooks this by calling the situation, "tradeoffs either way, like most things in life." Sure there are always tradeoffs, but the FDA found a way to have it both ways at least in the public health sense by mandating the washing of eggs, and then prescribing that eggs ought to be refrigerated afterward.