Salmonella Infection

The Salmonella problem
Why are pathogenic bacteria such as Salmonella enteritidis (SE) such a problem in eggs? The first reason is that eggs offer one of the best growth mediums due to the highly balanced nutritional make up of an egg, secondly because egg laying hens can carry SE without being sick or showing any symptoms and thirdly because rodents will always be around a concentration of poultry and they are natural carriers of Salmonella bacteria. Most egg producers will disagree that eggs are a high-risk product, however, if one searches the Internet and reads about the history of Salmonella outbreaks, one quickly realizes that SE related outbreaks is a real issue. Ignorance of producers has resulted in huge damages, financial as well as with respect to credibility for many countries where egg consumption dropped significantly with media picking up on major outbreaks with resultant negative publicity for the product.

The best example of the negative effect of media and health warning on the consumption of eggs must surely be the Edwina Curry affair. In 1988 Edwina Curry, the UK Health Minister released a report stating that Salmonella cases related to eggs are reaching epidemic proportions in the UK. This led to an immediate decrease in egg consumption with many egg producers going out of business. The minister eventually resigned due to political pressure but the damage was done. It took the UK Egg Industry years to recover and improve egg consumption costing millions of pounds.

Salmonella enteritidis is a disease-causing micro-organism carried by infected chickens. The yolk and albumen of eggs can be infected by pathogenic micro-organisms. This means that uncooked and semi-cooked eggs and products containing raw eggs such as many types of desserts, tiramisu, mayonnaise and salad dressings - can contain the pathogen that leads to salmonella poisoning.

With increased restrictions on chronic feed antibiotics administered to chickens, the incidence of salmonella and other pathogens is rising and numerous countries have had to take measures in the past couple of years to contain salmonella outbreaks. The World Health Organisation (WHO) cites infected eggs as contributing up to 40% of reported food poisoning cases in Europe.

Egg-associated salmonellosis is an important public health problem in the United States and several European countries. A bacterium, Salmonella enteritidis and Salmonella typhimurium, can be inside perfectly normal-appearing eggs, and if the eggs are eaten raw or undercooked (soft), the bacterium can cause illness. During the 1980s, illness related to contaminated eggs occurred most frequently in the North Eastern United States, but now illness caused by S. enteritidis is increasing in other parts of the country as well. Consumers should be aware of the disease and learn how to minimize the chances of becoming ill.

A person infected with the Salmonella enteritidis bacterium usually has fever, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea beginning 12 to 72 hours after consuming a contaminated food or beverage. The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days, and most persons recover without antibiotic treatment. However, the diarrhea can be severe, and the person may be ill enough to require hospitalization. The elderly, infants, and those with impaired immune systems may have a more severe illness. In these patients, the infection may spread from the intestines to the blood stream, and then to other body sites and can cause death unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics.