Monday, March 03, 2014

Salmonella problem on Victorian egg farm

More than 200 people became ill after eating at restaurants supplied by an Ararat egg farm. Details are at

Problems with Salmonella are not common in Australia as most commercial farms follow strict food safety procedures.

We are always amazed at the things we see people getting away with at markets - even Farmers' Markets which claim to only have accredited stallholders .

Here's a brief run-down about Salmonella and how good operators can easily avoid the problem.

Salmonella is a bacteria that can be found on many farms. Chickens carry the bacteria in their bodies, and pass Salmonella into the yolk and white while eggs are being formed in the ovaries. Bacteria may be deposited on the eggshell when the egg is laid and then in the right conditions, the bacteria can pass through the shell pores into the egg itself.

Despite a common belief, cracked eggs are not generally responsible for Salmonella problems. An intact shell does not guarantee safe eggs. The key is good on-farm hygiene practices with rodent control, clean nest boxes, clean grading and packing facilities and adequate cool storage. Eggs should be clean when they are laid and regular collection and good handling practices prevent the spread of bacteria.

Any part of the egg can harbour bacteria, and both whites and yolks have been implicated in food borne illness. However, the yolk is the most common source.

Chickens can be infected with salmonella bacteria from their environment, which is easily contaminated by rodents, birds and flies. These carriers take the bacteria to all types of egg farms whether they're cage, organic or free-range. The totally controlled environment of cage systems probably makes the problem less likely there as long as feed, water storage and egg handling facilities are up to scratch.

Once the bacteria get inside the chickens, the micro organisms thrive under ideal temperature and conditions.

When the eggs have been laid, multiplication happens fast if the eggs aren't cooled quickly. And if there's a lapse in cleaning practices or an undetected outbreak among the chickens, the percentage of affected eggs can increase rapidly.

Salmonella bacteria can double every 20 minutes under ideal conditions. In an hour at room temperature, two bacteria could become 32. At two hours, there may be 1,000 organisms. At eight hours, there can be millions in one egg.

One of the big problems for consumers at markets is that eggs are often transported halfway across the State and are not kept in temperature controlled conditions. The eggs may leave the farm on Thursday or Friday for deliveries in Melbourne and some may not be sold until a Sunday market.

If those eggs are well cooked, they should present no problem – but if they are eaten raw or in an undercooked form, gastroenteritis is often the result.

According to press reports, the problems with the latest contamination issue has been a combination of poor egg handling procedures and the number of eggs laid on the floor of the sheds rather than in nest boxes. The company's answer appears to be to import an egg washing machine to wash all eggs produced on the farm.

This outbreak demonstrates why industry accreditation programs are a fiasco.

Here's the latest from Green Eggs as published:

Products from a Great Western egg farm, Green Eggs, are back in the market place following a link with a salmonella outbreak.

The Victorian Health Department linked an outbreak of gastro enteritis due to salmonella at two restaurants to raw-egg foods made from Green Eggs products.
The Department of Environment and Primary Industries restricted the sale of eggs from the Great Western farm until additional cleaning and hygiene measures were in place to improve food safety. Those measures are now in place.

Owner Alan Green said the small business was devastated by the link to their product.
Mr Green said five employees had lost jobs this week because of changes made to the processing and packaging department.

He said Green Eggs were awaiting the delivery of an online washer from overseas to assist quality control.
"Eggs are now going out - they are being washed in Melbourne and are back in the market place," he said.
"Eggs already in the market place are fine but the public's safety is our number one priority."

Chief health officer Dr Rosemary Lester said people who had bought Green Eggs products from their supermarket and still had eggs in their fridge should only use them for cooked dishes and foods.
Dr Lester said thoroughly cooking eggs rendered them safe from contaminants such as salmonella.
Green Eggs supplies a range of restaurants, cafes and other eateries, farmers' markets and several supermarkets across Victoria, including A Bottle of Milk restaurant in Torquay, where 220 people ate before coming down with gastroenteritis in February.