Extending egg storage time would increase Salmonella risk - EFSA

EFSA assesses public health risks of egg storage times

Extending the storage time of eggs at home or retail would increase Salmonella risks, according to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

EFSA’s Panel on Biological Hazards (BIOHAZ) looked at extending the sell-by and best-before date for eggs eaten on their own or as ingredients in foods.

If the sell-by date for household consumption is extended from 21 to 28 days with the best-before date unchanged, the risk of infections increases by 40% for uncooked and 50% for slightly cooked eggs.

In the worst case scenario, where the sell-by date is 42 days and the best-before date is 70 days, the risk is around three times higher than what it is now for uncooked and slightly cooked eggs.   

Salmonella Enteritidis is responsible for causing the highest number of egg-borne outbreaks in EU.

Consumer confusion

The scientific advice was requested by the European Commission to help inform future developments on date marking for eggs.

Consumer confusion about the meaning of date labelling contributes to food waste in the home.

According to the model, extending the storage time for table eggs results in illness numbers increasing per million servings, except when eggs are well-cooked.

The increase depends on the additional time of storage at retail and in households.

Keeping the eggs refrigerated at retail and household is an effective way to minimise any increase in risk during extended storage, said the panel.

Quantitative model

The panel used a quantitative model that compared the current situation regarding the storage of eggs in the EU with different possible scenarios, using different sell-by and best-before dates.

If Salmonella is present inside eggs, it can multiply more rapidly as the temperature and storage time rise. However, thoroughly cooking eggs reduces the risk of infection,” said John Griffin, Chair of the Biological Hazards Panel. 

The panel assessed the impact and relevance of the quality criteria for eggs destined for manufacturing egg products.

“The concentration of 3-hydroxybutyric acid must not exceed 10 mg/kg in the dry matter of the unmodified egg product; the lactic acid content of the raw material used to manufacture egg products must not exceed 1 g/kg of dry matter) depending on changes in the duration and temperature of storage.”

The panel recommends studies on risk assessment exploring the effect of different temperatures of storage on the risk posed by egg borne pathogens such as S. Enteritidis.

It also suggested investigating the occurrence and control of microorganisms during industrial production of egg products, including pasteurisation, if the storage of eggs is prolonged, and a re-evaluation of the current chemical indicators to use more relevant ones.

You can read the full opinion here.

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