The recent voluntary recall of 500 million eggs from an Iowa-based farm due to possible salmonella has led to many consumer concerns, said Dr. Morgan Farnell, AgriLife Extension poultry specialist in College Station. However, Farnell said the industry as a whole continues to implement a number of checks and balances to ensure a safe, wholesome product is produced.
"We have a thriving industry here in Texas and we eat all we can produce within the state," Farnell said. "Our poultry infrastructure across the U.S. and Texas is in good shape.
"There's a lot of information on the Internet that isn’t accurate and consumers need a better understanding of how their food is produced," he said. "A lot of people don’t realize the herculean efforts by those in the poultry industry to make our food safe."
Many safeguards are put into place during production. "Not only do you have internal inspectors, but many companies also have their customers come and audit facilities," Farnell said. "People don't realize what goes on with regards to waste management plans, odor plans and continual testing for pathogens such as avian influenza and salmonella. A pullet receives numerous vaccinations to protect her against diseases of poultry and human health concerns. New technologies actually allow for layer chicks to be vaccinated in the egg before they are hatched."
Farnell said consumers should thoroughly cook poultry products and "never consider raw food as a sterile product.
"Use common sense when cooking with poultry products," he said. "Keep shell eggs refrigerated at all times and discard cracked or dirty eggs. Always wash your hands, cooking utensils and food preparation surfaces with soap and warm water after contact with raw eggs."
Eggs should be cooked until both the white and yolk are firm.
"Avoid restaurant dishes made with raw or undercooked, unpasteurized eggs," Farnell said. "Consumption of raw or undercooked eggs should be avoided, especially by young children, elderly persons and persons with weakened immune systems or debilitating illness."
"Foodborne pathogens are ubiquitous in our environment and are easily spread by boots, tires, floor mats, pets, mice, rats, insects, wild birds, contaminated feedstuffs, etc."
Overall, these pathogens are difficult to control in poultry, Farnell said, because many are considered "commensal" organisms.
"They don’t always harm their host, so the chicken’s immune system doesn't attempt to remove the microbes,” he said, adding that “medications aren’t available to eradicate the bacteria in poultry."
Salmonella vaccination of poultry is promising, but not extensively used due to problems with selecting the correct strain, conflicts with testing methods and proper administration of the product, Farnell said.
The following are poultry industry facts from the Texas AgriLife Extension Service:
- Per capita egg consumption in the U.S. is 248 eggs.
- There are approximately 282 million egg-laying hens in the U.S.
- U.S. egg companies produce 75 billion eggs per year.
- Texas ranks sixth in egg production with approximately 14 million layers.