Macheesmo

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eggs
Musings

An Egg-ceptional Problem

by Nick

eggs

If you live in the U.S. (and haven’t been living under a rock), you probably know that we’re having a bit of an egg problem here these days. Over the last few weeks over half a billion (WITH A B!) eggs have been recalled from stores all over the nation.

As tends to be the case when there is a food recall, the situation has been a bit confusing and so I did some research on what exactly the recall means for you and I’ll give you my thoughts on the whole deal as well.

Are Your Eggs at Risk? In terms of this recall, it’s very easy to find this out. The FDA has a thorough database of egg products that you should not purchase or use at this time. Check out their Shell Eggs Recall Product List and you can search by brand name or bar code or any number of other methods to find out if your eggs are recalled.

If the eggs in your fridge are on this list you should trash them or return them to the store right away.

In the long term, the question of egg safety is a much larger one and one that requires a bit more background.

Where Do My Eggs Come From? I actually think that this is an important question regarding all food that you buy since it’s becoming clearer and clearer that we can’t trust the people in charge to guarantee food safety (See spinach, beef, etc.)

But in the case of eggs, a relatively small number of farms produce a huge number of the eggs consumed. About 600 farms produce roughly 80% of the eggs we eat (Source). That’s kind of astounding considering we consume billions of eggs a year just in the U.S.

How do they do it you might ask? Well, they cram millions chickens into tiny boxes and have very little regard (very little is even being nice I think ) to their health and happiness. The main goal of these farms is to pump out as many eggs as possible every hour of every day.

Because of this, when a problem is detected (usually only after people die), then all the millions of eggs from one farm have to be recalled to deal with it.

If you want to read something really scary, check out the FDA inspection report that was released a few days ago from one of the recalled farms. Reading stuff like this makes me want to raise my own chickens.

So, in short, this is where your eggs are coming from.

A Race to the Bottom. While the exact cause of the most recent outbreak is still unknown (although I thought I saw that it had to do with feed issues I couldn’t find anything to back that up), I doubt that anyone would argue that the factory-type setting we raise these chickens in is at the root of the problem.

And, believe it or not, these factories don’t exist because there is a Cruella de Vil character out there that just loves seeing chickens suffer and people die. These factories and conditions exist not because we allow them, but because we demand them.

We might not be demanding them specifically (“I want chickens to be in cramped, infected living conditions!”), but we do demand them in a roundabout way (“I want really cheap eggs”).

Because most American consumers choose price as the most important data point when it comes to food purchases, producers try to minimize that and we end up with whatever quality we end up with. Of course there are supposed to be quality standards but when (not if) they are broken the company can continue to produce food for years sometimes before anyone catches on.

And so we’ve helped create a race to the bottom. Until a large percentage of people start to realize that there are other factors besides the numbers on the price tag that should go into your food buying decisions, I doubt anything will change in this department.

Making Eggs Safe. At the end of the day, there are only two ways to make 100% sure the eggs you eat are free from Salmonella:

1) Cook the crap out of it.
2) Pasteurize all eggs.

Neither of these answers is ideal in my opinion. In most dishes, I’d rather just not have an egg than have an overcooked egg so option one isn’t really an option for me.

While I don’t think Option 2 will happen, it could be that the FDA requires all eggs to be pasteurized before they could be sold. This would affect the flavor and nutrients in the egg, but it also doesn’t really solve the problem. It would just cover it up.

If chickens are allowed to live in a reasonable setting and given healthy feed and clean conditions (like almost all small farms do), then the chances of disease in their eggs is about as close to zero as you can get.

My Strategy. I’m not easily scared, but this all does kind of make me shiver because I have this really deep, strange feeling that when something like this happens we are being given a glimpse at the tip of a crazy iceberg of a problem that has developed in this country.

In an attempt to produce really cheap food, we’re allowing for some really scary business to go down.

So, when it comes to eggs, this is the strategy I use to try to keep myself from vomiting my guts out and also hopefully support positive change:

1) If I’m at a restaurant, unless I’m really comfortable in the quality of the food at that restaurant, I’m either not ordering eggs or I’m ordering them cooked solid. For me that means less eggs benedict and more omelets.

2) Whenever I can, I buy eggs from my local farmer’s market. Without raising your own chickens (I really want to), it’s as close as you can get to the source. Sure. This means that I pay $5-$6 for a carton of eggs, but the quality is far superior and I can rest easy knowing that I’m feeding myself and my guests good, healthy food.

3) I’m going to start doing some research on the egg brands available to me at my local supermarkets. Egg carton labels are very confusing, but if you can wade through them you can find out a lot. I want to make informed decisions and that means making decisions based on things other than price.

This might mean that I’m paying more for my eggs, but it’s a small price to pay in my opinion.

So, did this most recent recall scare the yolk out of you?

Has it changed your buying decisions? Leave a comment!

More reading:

- Great article on Foodconsumer.org on the recent recall.

- Eggs and Egg products at foodsafety.gov.

- The FDA Food page where they announce all this depressing stuff.

- FDA Inspection Report on Hillandale Farms