Nearly 30 years after the salmonella crisis of the 1980s, the government’s food safety watchdog have declared that runny and even raw eggs are now safe to eat by vulnerable groups such as pregnant women and young children.
A review by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) conducted a review of fresh scientific evidence which has found that those vulnerable to infection from salmonella bacteria, which is commonly found in eggs, could now safely eat raw or lightly cooked eggs – assuming that they are produced under the British Lion code of practice.
The Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food (ACMSF) released a report in July last year stating that the presence of salmonella in UK eggs had been “dramatically reduced” in recent years. The risk for eggs carrying the British Lion quality mark was “very low”. Currently 90% of British eggs are produced under the British lion scheme, most commonly identified by a recognisable red stamp on the egg.
“The fallout was far worse; egg sales plummeted by 60% and 4 million hens were slaughtered.”
Since the 1980s, vulnerable groups have been advised to not consume raw or lightly cooked eggs, or products containing them, such as mayonnaise. Eggs cooked or used in this manner were found to have active salmonella bacteria which could cause food poisoning, and in more serious cases of infection, death. Following the release of this information nearly 30 years ago, egg producers have taken more serious measures to help reduce these risks. Improved hygiene, better transportation and hen vaccinations have all contributed to a more efficient, safer production process. However, the new advice does not change egg eating habits for severely immuno-compromised individuals with specially constructed diets prescribed by health professionals. As for eggs that do not carry the British Lion mark, non-hen eggs and eggs imported from outside the UK, they still need to be cooked thoroughly for vulnerable people.
Those who opt to eat raw or lightly cooked eggs are advised to adopt or continue maintaining high standards of food hygiene in the kitchen. This can include preventing cross contamination, cleaning work surfaces and utensils regularly and washing hands before and after contact with eggs.
Panic over the potential for salmonella poisoning peaked in the 1980s following the revelation from Edwina Currie in 1988, who was a junior health minister at the time. Currie stated that “most” eggs in the UK were infected with salmonella bacteria resulting in public hysteria, eventually leading to her resignation from office two weeks later. The fallout was far worse; egg sales plummeted by 60% and 4 million hens were slaughtered. In 1989, the links between eggs and salmonella was proved despite the British Egg Industry Council vehemently criticising Currie’s remarks. In 1999, the egg industry began brandishing their eggs with the British Lion insignia which helped to revive consumer confidence.