UK Eggs get a Clean Bill of Health after 30 Years

Wednesday 11th October 2017

After long running fears of salmonella contamination in British produced eggs, new advice produced by the Food Standards Agency has declared that pregnant women, babies and the elderly can now eat lightly cooked or raw eggs providing they were produced under the British Lion Mark code of practice.

The FSA noted that the presence of salmonella in UK eggs has “dramatically reduced” and the risk is very low for any eggs with the Lion quality mark, easily noticeable by the red lion stamp on each egg.

This advice does not apply to people with severely compromised immune systems.

This comes nearly three decades after one of the most infamous health scares in British food production, where fears of salmonella infection led to the advice that groups vulnerable to infection should not eat eggs that were not thoroughly cooked. Given that salmonella infection could lead to potentially fatal food poisoning and there was a link between salmonella poisoning and eggs, warnings were prudent.

In 1988, then-junior health minister Edwina Currie stated infamously in an interview that “most of the egg production in this country, sadly is now affected with salmonella”. The implication that the issue was bigger than in practice sparked a national crisis, with public outcry coming from poultry farmers. Four million hens were slaughtered and egg consumption fell by 60% as a result.

Currie was forced to resign as a result two weeks later, and the government of the time was forced to offer a compensation package worth millions of pounds to farmers. The egg industry in the UK spent nearly 30 years recovering from the reputation, a movement boosted by the creation of the Lion Mark in 1998, a quality and food safety scheme under which over 90% of eggs in the UK are produced and involves certain freshness, traceability, feeding, welfare and vaccination standards on egg farmers.

The new advice also gives more confidence to those eating foods that rely on raw eggs in their production, such as mayonnaise and mousses. Many of these recipes, particularly for mass manufactured products would replace the raw egg required with pasteurised egg products.

The new advice does not affect eggs produced outside of the UK or eggs produced not under the Lion Mark, and people who eat them are advised to cook them thoroughly if they are part of a vulnerable group. The FSA also urges that people preparing eggs follow good hygiene practices to avoid health issues, such as avoiding cross-contamination, washing hands, cleaning work surfaces, dishes and cooking utensils, as well as paying attention to best before dates and ensuring eggs are stored in a fridge or other cool dry place.

The chair of the British Egg Industry Council has welcomed the change in advice, noting the effect previous advice has on people eating eggs, particularly women whilst pregnant, young children and the diets of older people, and that formerly popular egg based dishes could end up returning to British menus.