Egg industry statement on latest food safety challenge.
Salmonella Enteritidis (SE) has been detected on eleven egg farms in New South Wales and one in Victoria so far.
All sites have been quarantined and undergone decontamination.
All the properties confirmed to have had SE present are interconnected in that people, eggs or equipment were moving between them.
SE is not endemic in Australia and it remains unclear how this strain arrived here. Given the regular movements of people from overseas and imported goods, there are many possibilities for SE to enter Australia.
Australian Eggs’ Managing Director, Rowan McMonnies, said the efforts of government authorities and industry has been critical in stabilising the situation.
An intensive tracing and testing process has been conducted by government authorities since late-2018,” Mr McMonnies said.
This process has ensured that when SE has emerged it has been caught early and the public and broader industry were protected. All the contaminated sites have been detected through this process and they continue to be limited to a cluster of interconnected farms.”
Salmonella Enteritidis is a new and unique bacteria for us in Australia and responding to the threat has been a learning experience for both government and industry.
Media focus on farm densities
The SE incidents have been linked in the media to a number of egg industry issues that emerge from time to time. These include suggestions that food safety risks have been caused or exacerbated by: intensive farming, cage, barn or free range farming, farm size or free range outdoor stocking density.
These issues have more to do with competitive jostling and personal values than evidence and have not been particularly helpful in building an understanding of the SE incidents.
Risks are driven by biosecurity practices and farm management and it is these issues that are the focus of our response,” Mr McMonnies said.
Mr McMonnies said the discovery of SE in Australia has hit egg farmers hard and many of the contaminated farms have been unable to recover.
Having withstood a year of drought that doubled the cost of feed grain, egg farmers now face the cost of even higher biosecurity measures.”
Nonetheless, the egg industry remains committed to managing this new challenge to maintain the community’s confidence in eggs.”
Basic safe food practices are the best way for consumers to protect against Salmonella. This includes cooking eggs properly and washing hands and wiping surfaces to limit possible cross-contamination.
The SE incidents have raised the issue of traceability, with egg farms wanting a greater level of certainty about the origin of eggs they purchase so they can ensure strong biosecurity is maintained across their supply chain.
Putting stamps on eggs to identify the source of eggs is required in most states but this generally applies at the sites where eggs are packaged and not necessarily on farm.
Comprehensive traceability systems are implemented on a voluntary basis but the SE incidents have sparked consideration of how this could be achieved more consistently. The industry is engaging with governments to discuss options for improvement which could provide benefits for egg farmers and consumers.
An update on the SE incidents is available on the Australian Eggs website at this link.