A salmonella outbreak in nine states has led to one of the largest egg recalls in years.
The Rose Acre Farms of Indiana is now voluntarily recalling more than 206 million eggs after a salmonella outbreak was linked to the products.
Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 11 of those confirmed infected had to be hospitalized. The news comes on the heels of another major bacterial outbreak linked to romaine lettuce.
But foodborne illnesses are nothing new.
Every year, salmonella alone leads to an estimated 1.2 million illnesses, 23,000 hospitalizations, and 450 deaths, according to the CDC.
If you’re worried about the salmonella outbreak, we’ll tell you how to check your eggs and what you can do to protect yourself from salmonella and other dangerous bacteria.
Check your eggs
If you have eggs in your fridge right now, you can find out if they’re among those recalled by checking the plant number and Julian date.
All of the eggs will have the plant number P-1065, and they will have a Julian date in the range of 011 to 102.
Rose Acre Farms and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have an extensive list of the egg cartons affected available here.
Even if your eggs aren’t among those recalled, you should discard any chipped or cracked eggs.
How to avoid salmonella
Salmonella is a type of naturally occurring bacteria present in many animals, including chickens.
You can’t tell if an egg has salmonella just by looking at it. The bacteria can be present inside an egg as well as on the shell.
Cooking food thoroughly can kill salmonella. Be aware that runny, poached, or soft eggs aren’t fully cooked — even if they are delicious.
The FDA also has this handy sheet on how to handle and cook food properly to cut down on the risk of eating a contaminated dinner.
Are there more food outbreaks now?
Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Tennessee, said that new technology has allowed experts to find outbreaks that normally would be too small to be detectable.
“We’re actually picking up more of these contaminated industrially created and distributed products than we used to before,” he said. “You know it makes you wonder how many outbreaks we never knew about.”
He pointed out that state and federal public health officials have new technology that allows them to break down bacterial strains to the molecular level to find their “genetic fingerprints.”
The CDC keeps a genetic database for pathogens, and if they start to see multiple cases with the same “fingerprints,” they know an outbreak is occurring.
This is what helped them identify an outbreak of just 35 people spread across nine states.
If public health experts identify an ongoing outbreak, they can send out disease “detectives” who will ask for detailed diet history to determine a source of the infection.
Schaffner said that for every person confirmed sick, probably another 10 to 100 have been infected.
“You can think of it as a pyramid. At the bottom is everyone who ingests and takes in the food — the contaminated salmonella. They get a little bit of an illness, but it’s not enough to go to the doctor,” he said.
At the top of the pyramid are the people confirmed to have had the disease.
Are organic eggs better?
Plenty of consumers now prefer buying organic eggs or eggs from birds that are raised cage-free, for a variety of reasons.
But Schaffner said if people are specifically worried about salmonella, whether the eggs they buy are organic or nonorganic eggs probably doesn’t matter.
“I think there’s been no demonstrated benefit from an infectious disease point of view, for infection or safety — for purchasing these ‘specialty eggs,’” he said. “Obviously, lots of people are attracted to antibiotic-free eggs, eggs that are produced organically, just for general healthier eating. That’s a whole separate issue.”
But what if you want eggs at brunch?
Schaffner said that due to the ongoing recall and high turnover of ingredients at restaurants, he expects that any eggs affected by the recall have either been discarded or used.
“I think there has been a great deal of turnover,” said Schaffner. “I think anything distributed to commercial food establishments certainly by now has either been recalled or used. So if you’re going out to brunch, you can have your eggs. They’re fine.”
But he warns to double-check what’s in your fridge if you plan on cooking up your own eggs.
“It’s the [carton] in the family refrigerator that I’m worried about,” he said.