Report Synopsis

Food Safety: Whose responsibility is it? Egg safety. Should the farmer be solely responsible?

Lachlan Green

The Australian egg industry is one filled with passionate farmers, world class researchers, and consumers who love the product. That being said, the Australian egg industry also has a reputation as being connected with many food poisoning outbreaks throughout the country. Simply put, eggs often get a bad rap when things go wrong in commercial kitchens.

Eggs in themselves are a wonderful product. Full of nutrition, antibacterial properties, and protein. They provide a reliable, delicious, cheap and easily accessible food source for the world’s population. Eggs are a natural product that are in no way sterile, yet eggs are often assumed to be.

This paper, which focuses on egg production and food safety regulation in the United Kingdom (UK), the Netherlands and the United States of America (USA), seeks to identify ways that the Australian egg industry can further protect itself going forward in to the future. Currently, regulation of egg production in Australia is fragmented. There are varying local and state level requirements but no federal legislation that is applied consistently or on a mandatory basis throughout the country. In contrast, the countries studied for this report have common minimum regulatory standards that apply to commercial egg producers as well as schemes that go above and beyond the minimum. In Australia, there is a voluntary accreditation scheme, run by Australian Eggs, that provides requirements and adherence to best practice standards across a variety of different aspects of production including hen welfare, food safety, the environment and egg grading. These are, however, completely voluntary and the competitive or other advantage to being accredited with the system does not apply to all egg producers.

The UK has a similar voluntary accreditation scheme, the Lion Code. This code is widely adopted with more than 90% of eggs in the UK being produced under it. The code is highly robust and has not only consumer faith but regulatory faith. That is, if there are ever any issues with an egg farm, if they are accredited under the Lion Code, the government is readily willing to accept that the farm operates under best practice.

To achieve a similar outcome in Australia, the industry needs to better coordinate with regulators and develop a set of requirements that are applied equally throughout the country and appropriately monitored and enforced. In doing so, commercial advantage can be gained by those producers exceeding minimum requirements and adopting best practice, while consumers can be assured that no matter where or from whom they buy eggs they are purchasing a safe product. Similarly, newcomers can be given the opportunity to fully understand the requirements of producing safe eggs.

The Australian egg industry would also benefit from ongoing education of the end user of the product on the safe use of eggs. Not only the domestic users of eggs but the chefs, cooks and restauranteurs that use eggs to make food which is sold to the public. Eggs too often get the blame when a food poisoning outbreak occurs, even in situations where eggs were not used in the offending dish. This is an attitude that the industry must strive to alter. Education is the vessel to assist in doing so.

Just as those using the product need to be educated, so to do those regulating the food service industry. The level of understanding surrounding salmonella and how it operates is drastically varied, and effort is required to ensure that those investigating food poisoning outbreaks and auditing commercial kitchens understand the risks associated with mishandling an egg product. After all, an egg producer should not be held liable when they have provided a safe, fit for purpose product that is then mishandled.

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