Most people know to handle raw chicken carefully, but it is increasingly clear that Australians aren't fully aware of the health hazards associated with raw eggs.
Raw eggs, and the dishes made with them, are responsible for many food poisoning incidents in Australia. It looks like this number is only going to increase with new strains of Salmonella bacteria entering the Australian egg supply.
The consequences of a food-borne illness outbreak can be dire — to the person who gets sick, to the business that serves them contaminated food and to the Australian economy at large.
New strain of Salmonella in Australia
Since May 2018, a rare strain of Salmonella, Salmonella enteritidis, has caused more than 200 cases of infection and more than a little alarm among farmers, governments, consumers and the agricultural industry at large.
Prior to last year, Salmonella enteritidis (SE) was not found in Australia. Objectively, it is “worse” than other strains of Salmonella bacteria, because it can get inside the egg. Other strains of Salmonella are confined to the shell, whereas SE can get inside fertile eggs as they form inside the hen.
The hen may appear to be perfectly healthy, but the yolks of the eggs she lays are contaminated with SE bacteria. If an egg with a contaminated yolk is served raw or undercooked, the person who eats it can get food poisoning. If the egg produces a new chick, the cycle continues.
More than ever, safe handling of eggs and egg products is necessary to prevent food-borne illness.
The frightening facts about food safety in Australia
According to the Department of Health in Australia, there are roughly 4.1 million domestically acquired cases of food-borne gastroenteritis in Australia every year. On average, this results in:
- 6.5 million days of lost work
- $1.25 billion annual cost to the Australian economy
- 1 million doctors appointments
- 31,920 hospitalisations
- 86 deaths
In its most recent report, OzFoodNet — a health network established by the Australian Government to enhance the surveillance of food-borne diseases — reported that almost a third of outbreaks with a known food vehicle were linked or suspected to be linked to the consumption of eggs or egg-based dishes.
Food-borne illness outbreaks can ruin a business
Earlier this year (February 2019), an outbreak of salmonellosis in South Australia was linked to three Angkor Bakery stores in northern Adelaide. Following an investigation by SA Health, raw egg butter was determined to be the source of the outbreak.
By the end of the outbreak, 58 people had fallen ill and at least 19 were hospitalised. In a letter of apology, bakery owners apologised to their “dear and valued customers”, saying they hoped they could continue to count on their trust and support.
In September, two of the owners and three others connected with the bakery were charged with multiple counts of failure to comply with food standards and selling unsafe food.
In a statement to local media outside of the Elizabeth Magistrates Court, one of the owners said that the loss of public confidence following the outbreak led to plummeting sales, and with the business in financial trouble, they were unable to afford legal representation. The case is adjourned until November.
Tips for handling raw eggs safely
According to OzFoodNet, Salmonella is the most common cause of food-borne illness outbreaks — and restaurants are the most frequently reported food preparation setting.
Follow the rules below to reduce the risk of food poisoning from raw eggs / raw egg products:
- Only buy eggs from an approved supplier.
- When egg deliveries arrive, check to make sure none are cracked or dirty. Reject eggs that have a strong odour, that are past their best before date or that are delivered at a temperature above 5°C.
- Store eggs in the refrigerator below 5°C.
- Cook eggs and egg dishes to 72°C or above.
- Use pasteurised eggs and egg products when preparing any recipes that call for uncooked or undercooked eggs, or if you primarily serve vulnerable groups, such as the elderly, children under five, pregnant women, people who are ill or people with compromised immune systems.
- Clean and sanitise any surfaces, equipment or utensils after they have been used to prepare eggs.
If a customer orders runny eggs, it's a good idea to inform them that food-borne pathogens are not completely destroyed until the egg yolk is solid.
The best way to avoid fines, closures or reputation damage is to comply with food safety laws and regulations, maintain food safety standards, nominate a Food Safety Supervisor and ensure that everyone who handles food in the business has received the appropriate food safety training.
Egg safety in New South Wales (NSW)
In 2016, following a number of egg-related food poisoning outbreaks, the NSW Food Authority decided to make egg safety one of its key focus areas (along with allergen management and cleaning and sanitising practices).
One of the changes made by the NSW Food Authority was to mandate that egg safety be included in all Food Safety Supervisor training. This training is mandatory for at least one person in every hospitality or food retail business in the state, and is nationally recognised training which means that the course content is governed by the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA).
If you work or are intending to work as a Food Safety Supervisor in NSW, you must take the NSW-specific Food Safety Supervisor course. Simply enrol in a Food Safety Supervisor course and select 'Yes - I require a NSW Food Authority Certificate'. If you require assistance, please contact our support team.