Millions of eggs recalled in salmonella outbreak

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An egg producer in Iowa is recalling 228 million eggs, as the federal government reports a multi-state outbreak of salmonella.

Infection with the bacterium salmonella enteritidis can cause fever, abdominal cramps and diarrhea. Sickness usually only lasts a few days, with no long-term consequences. But the infection can be fatal if the disease spreads from the intestines to the blood stream.

According to a statement from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

[I]nvestigations conducted by public health officials in California, Colorado, and Minnesota have revealed several restaurants or events where more than one ill person with the outbreak strain has eaten. […] State partners, FDA, and CDC, conducted a traceback and found many of these restaurants or events received shell eggs from a single firm, Wright County Egg, in Galt, Iowa.

Wright County Egg  began its voluntary recall on Aug. 13.

Tainted eggs may have been distributed to food wholesalers and food-service companies in California, Illinois, Missouri, Colorado, Nebraska, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa — but some of these companies also distribute nationwide, according to a statement from Wright County Egg. The suspect products are packaged under 13 different brand names: Lucerne, Albertson, Mountain Dairy, Ralph’s, Boomsma’s, Sunshine, Hillandale, Trafficanda, Farm Fresh, Shoreland, Lund, Dutch Farms and Kemps.

If you think you may have purchased the recalled eggs, check the lot number on your carton. There should be two numbers. (A recalled package would have a stamp, for example, saying “P-1413  210.”) The first refers to the operating plant that produced the eggs, and for a recalled package this number will be either 1026, 1413, or 1946. The second number gives the eggs’ production date; for a recalled package this will be between 136 and 225, signifying that the eggs were laid anywhere from the 136th to 225th day of the year.

It seems that the bacteria responsible for the Wright County Egg outbreak are living on the shells of the eggs. Ordinarily, salmonella bacteria live in the intestinal tracts of chickens and many other animals. According to the Egg Safety Center — an affiliate of United Egg Producers — salmonella is often deposited on the shell of an egg. That’s not unusual. But eggs are supposed to be washed and sanitized before they’re packed for market, so that the bacteria should never reach the consumer. The inside of the egg is rarely infected, the Egg Safety Center says, since egg whites contain a natural antimicrobial. Infection can occur if the bird is sick, however. The shell is also somewhat porous, so it is not impossible for bacteria to get inside the egg from an uncleaned shell.

You can protect against salmonella by buying eggs that appear to have clean, uncracked shells. Avoid eating eggs that have been left unrefrigerated, as the warmth allows any last remaining bacteria to reproduce. Always cook eggs thoroughly as well, until the yolks and whites are firm, since that kind of high heat will kill the germs. And to be extra safe, especially during the current outbreak, be sure to wash your hands after cracking eggs, just in case there’s anything left on the shell.