Sunday, August 29, 2010

Unscrambling The Egg Mess: Whose Eggs Can We Trust?

Day after day, the number of outbreak illnesses grows.

Day after day, the number of recalled egg brands grows.

Day after day, the number of affected egg plant locations grows – 15 locations at last count.

And day after day, public skepticism in the safety of shell eggs grows.

Ever since the first in this series of egg recalls reached public ears, I have been receiving comments and questions from concerned consumers – including those who have not become ill.

From Anonymous in Oklahoma (August 20th):- "Has anyone heard of Wagon Trail Farmers' eggs? These were purchased at Walmart recently."

From Keith (August 21st):- "This box of 18 eggs is labeled 'Sunny Farms'. On the back of the hinge of the box it says Packed for Hillandale Farms Crown Ohio; West Union IA. Just want to make sure this is not a source that is being overlooked."

From Matt in Napa (August 21st):- "I keep seeing 'Market Pantry brand at Target is fine, but I didn't want to risk food poisoning (or my life) to eat a delicious 9-cent egg."

From Anonymous (August 28th):- "I am now a bit scared to eat any of the eggs. I'll try to return them and see if Target will accept it."

And from Elle M. (August 28th):- "I just bought a carton (P-1173) and after reading the comment from the guy in New York, I'm going to throw them away."

When I turned on my computer this morning, I found the following message from Valerie Engler of Sparboe Farms. Her email was in response to a message I sent several days ago.

"As you can imagine, we have been busy responding to many phone calls and e-mails! We care greatly about our customers and consumers, so thank you for contacting Sparboe Farms.

If you would like more information about Sparboe Farms and the industry-wide egg recall, please view our press release available here:

Please note that no eggs shipped to Target that were packed by Sparboe Farms are listed as part of the withdrawal that Sparboe Farms participated in."

At this point, I'm more concerned about the eggs that were not listed as part of the Sparboe Farms withdrawal, and have responded to Ms. Engler of Sparboe Farms with some additional questions.

Meanwhile, in answer to the question as to whose eggs can be trusted, here's my opinion.

Who NOT to trust until further notice (my personal "watch list")
  • Eggs stamped with one of the 15 plant identification numbers that have been involved in one or more of the recalls, whether or not the specific grade, size or Julian date matches one of the recall notice. The suspect Plant IDs are: P1026, P1091, P1156, P1167, P1292, P1382, P1413, P1663, P1686, P1720, P1860, P1906, P1942, P1946, and P1951.
  • Eggs produced and/or packed in Iowa but which have not yet been recalled. This adds another eight locations to the watch list: P1002 (Sparboe-Eagle, Eagle Grove, IA), P1098 (Sunrise Farms, Harris, IA), P1189 (Winterset Egg Farm, Winterset, IA), P1519 (Sparboe-Vincent, Eagle Grove, IA), P1592 (Sparboe-Farmegg Products LLC, Humboldt, IA), P1674 (Sparboe Farms, Inc., Goodell, IA), P1725 (Sunbest Foods, LLC, Clearfield, IA), and P1773 (Sunbest Papetti Farms, Villisca, IA).
  • Eggs sold at Target stores that bear the statement "Produced and packed by or for Sparboe Farms." These eggs may carry Target's Market Pantry brand.

Eggs that are probably safe
  • Pasteurized shell eggs (if you can find them in a store near you)
  • Liquid eggs and egg substitutes. These eggs, too, are pasteurized.
  • Eggs sold in Maryland - all egg shipments (either direct or via third parties) must be registered with the State.
  • Eggs produced and sold locally – in Farmer's Markets, Co-op stores or local food markets – probably are OK.

While the onus for supplying safe food rests solidly on the shoulders of the food industry, consumers can – and should – always take steps to protect themselves from potentially unsafe food. Here are a few of the things you can do:
  • Stay aware of any food recall announcements, especially when they are associated with foodborne disease outbreaks;
  • Maintain clear separation between raw foods (meats, poultry, eggs and fish) and cooked or ready-to-eat foods in the kitchen;
  • Cook potentially contaminated foods under time/temperature conditions that will kill pathogens such as Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes and E. coli;
  • Avoid cross-contamination in the kitchen;
  • Always refrigerate or freeze leftover food promptly;
  • When eating out, return any undercooked or questionable food to the restaurant kitchen; and
  • Discard any food that is suspected of being contaminated, stale or spoiled.

If you don't trust the source, don't buy or eat the product.

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