Australia’s Egg Safety Debate

Egg safety is a contentious issue with differing opinions emerging from various government departments and other interested parties.
January 19, 2016

Egg safety has become a contentious issue of late with differing opinions emerging from various government departments and other interested parties.

The Sydney Morning Herald’s article last week suggested that supermarkets were the ‘missing link’ when it comes to protection against foodborne illnesses caused by eggs.

The article mentions that supermarkets currently aren’t required to refrigerate their eggs, despite the fact that research shows doing so could stop harmful bacteria, like salmonella, from spreading.

Included in the article is an interview with Australian National University’s Associate Professor Martyn Kirk, who explained it was crucial for supermarkets to think about cold storage and egg-related salmonella prevention.

"It is a priority. We've seen lots of outbreaks. We should be doing multiple things to try and prevent salmonella occurring," he said.

The president of the Victorian Farmers Federation’s egg group, Brian Ahmed, was also interviewed for the news story. As quoted in the Australian Institute of Food Safety’s article last week, Ahmed says that with regards to food safety, eggs should be treated the same way as raw meat.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand’s Response

In response, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) posted a statement outlining its stance on best food safety practices with regards to eggs.

“There is no food safety reason to require whole eggs to be refrigerated at retail, however, retailers may choose to refrigerate eggs for their own reasons (for example, to maintain the quality of the egg such as firmness of the yolk or reduce spoilage),” said the statement.

Based on the findings of its 2011 risk assessment of egg production and processing, FSANZ says that the shell, membrane and white of an egg form a barrier against potential contamination. The statement continues to say that refrigerating whole eggs is not required because:

  • The Salmonella bacteria which can contaminate an egg while it’s inside the bird isn’t present in Australian eggs.
  • Australian egg producers are already required to minimise the risk of eggs becoming contaminated after they have been laid.
  • Salmonella must breach three layers of protection before contaminating the yolk.
  • If retail stores were to refrigerate eggs, it would likely have a small impact on the overall risk of contamination, because the eggs might not have been refrigerated since being laid; and
  • Most of the recent foodborne illness outbreaks that have been linked to eggs relate to raw egg products.

Is it Better to be Safe Than Sorry?

Despite the FSANZ’s statement regarding not needing to refrigerate eggs, should we be erring on the side of caution?

There are still numerous government authorities and food safety experts, including the Food Safety Information Council and the NSW Food Authority, who advocate for refrigerating eggs so while it might not yet be a requirement for retail food businesses, it might be better to be safe than sorry.