A recent massive recall of contaminated eggs in the United States probably wouldn’t happen in Canada because conditions are different here, industry officials say.
Strict biosecurity and food safety protocols for Canadian egg farmers guard against salmonella outbreaks which occurred last month in the U. S., said Laurent Souligny, Egg Farmers of Canada chairman.
The U. S. Food and Drug Administration recalled over 500 million shell eggs nationwide after salmonella enteritidis (SE) which sickened hundreds of people was traced to Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms, two large egg farms in Iowa.
FDA calls it the largest SE outbreak reported in the U. S. since the start of surveillance in the early 1970s.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate at least 1,400 people became ill after eating eggs contaminated by the bacteria.
One possible source of the outbreak was contaminated feed from a local feed mill located within six miles, according to FDA.
Media reports also described major federal egg safety violations at the two farms, including piles of manure, live rodents, pigeons and other birds inside the henhouses.
One of the farm’s owners was described as a “habitual violator” of Iowa’s environmental laws.
Such conditions would not be allowed in Canada under the egg industry’s biosecurity and food safety protocols, officials say.
EFC administers a national on-farm food safety program called “Start Clean Stay Clean.” EFC field inspectors visit farms annually and rate them according to program compliance.
The program is mandatory in Manitoba and most other provinces, which also conduct their own-farm inspections.
“Our farmers are visited, they’re rated, they’re scored. They have to have sufficient records to prove what they’ve been doing – that they’ve been doing what they say they’re doing,” said Penny Kelly, Manitoba Egg Farmers general manager.
“The programs and the protocols that are in place are very, very good risk mitigation steps.”
Kelly said inspectors arrive unannounced and take dust samples inside barns which are tested for the presence of salmonella. If the bacteria is detected in the environment, the eggs are diverted to a processor for pasteurization. Flocks can be depopulated if necessary.
Barns are required to have rodent barriers, since mice and rats can be “a significant carrier” of salmonella, said Kelly. Control measures include having a gravelled surface around the barn so rodents are less likely to tunnel in.
Salmonella can be transmitted through infected feed into eggs. A more likely entry point for the bacteria is through cracks in eggshells.
But egg grading stations, which are HACCP-certified, will screen out cracked eggs during sorting, said Souligny.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency reports two recall incidents involving shell eggs and salmonella in Canada. The first resulted in three recalls in September 2000. The second resulted in one recall in May 2007.
Souligny objected to attempts by animal welfare groups to link salmonella with the confinement of layer hens in battery cages.
The Humane Society of the United States in a recent letter to Iowa egg farmers said “(c)onfining birds to cages means increased salmonella infection in the birds, their eggs and the consumers of caged eggs.”
HSUS on its website claims to have scientific studies documenting a link between salmonella and confinement rearing.
But Souligny said cages actually help prevent contamination because they separate birds from their manure. Eggs roll out of cages onto a conveyor belt while manure drops down to the floor of the barn, where it is collected.
“In my view, it all boils down to cleanliness and biosecurity,” Souligny said. “To say it’s because the birds are in a cage, I don’t buy that.”
“I know the HSUS is trying to make hay of this one. But I think anybody would look at that and say, it really in large part comes down to the individual manager.”
Manitoba Egg Farmers general manager