Which came first? The healthy chicken or the clean egg?

Alberta study sorted through a plethora of egg-cleaning methods 
to find the best way to reduce bacteria on eggs

Eggs don’t stay this clean in a hatching barn, so it’s important to find an effective way to clean them.
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Cleaning eggs is critical in hatcheries in order to minimize bacteria on shells that can affect chicks when they emerge.

But there’s more than one way to clean eggs.

“Farmers are using many different methods to clean their eggs,” said Brenda Schneider, a poultry research technologist with the province. “Some dust them off, others use an egg-washing machine or another method.”

In 2014, Schneider and poultry research scientist Valerie Carney conducted a six-month study and developed recommendations for the best way to clean eggs in a hatching operation. Since then, their recommendations have increasingly become standard practice, allowing producers to increase their hatch rate and reduce the need for antibiotics.

They began by sending out a survey to Alberta’s 30 hatching egg producers, with half providing information on how they clean eggs.

“Of 15 hatching operations, we found that 11 different methods were being used,” said Carney.

An egg has thousands of tiny pores where bacteria can hide, so even when it appears clean, it could still harbour bacteria. A thin cuticle on the shell provides protection for the shell itself and the chick inside. But if the cuticle is compromised, it could expose the chick to bacteria.

To determine which egg-cleaning method worked best, Carney and Schneider visited egg barns, gathered and cleaned eggs using the 11 different methods, and then had them tested for bacteria.

Egg-washing machines received top marks. Although costly ($7,000 to $8,000 per machine), the machines use water warmer than 42 C, which was most effective in removing bacteria.

The second-most-effective method was Clorox wipes. Considerably cheaper than the egg-washing machine, this method nonetheless did a good job. The active ingredient in the wipes is known to be benign for chicks.

Schneider and Carney’s findings have since been incorporated into technical materials published by both the provincial and national organizations that represent hatching egg producers. They’ve also been widely adopted.

“One producer told us that washing eggs more effectively had increased his hatch by one per cent,” said Schneider. “That’s quite a difference and this project made that possible.”

The project was funded by Growing Forward 2.

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