Salmonella Enteritidis Infection (Egg Associated) (cont.)

How do eggs become contaminated?

Unlike eggborne salmonellosis of past decades, the current epidemic is due to intact and disinfected grade A eggs. Salmonella enteritidis silently infects the ovaries of healthy appearing hens and contaminates the eggs before the shells are formed.

Most types of Salmonella live in the intestinal tracts of animals and birds and are transmitted to humans by contaminated foods of animal origin. Stringent procedures for cleaning and inspecting eggs were implemented in the 1970s and have made salmonellosis caused by external fecal contamination of egg shells extremely rare. However, unlike eggborne salmonellosis of past decades, the current epidemic is due to intact and disinfected grade A eggs. As noted earlier, the reason for this is that Salmonella enteritidis silently infects the ovaries of healthy appearing hens and contaminates the eggs before the shells are formed.

Although most infected hens have been found in the northeastern United States, the infection also occurs in hens in other areas of the country. In the Northeast, approximately one in 10,000 eggs may be internally contaminated. In other parts of the United States, contaminated eggs appear less common. Only a small number of hens seem to be infected at any given time, and an infected hen can lay many normal eggs while only occasionally laying an egg contaminated with the Salmonella bacterium.

Who can be infected?

The elderly, infants, and persons with impaired immune systems are at increased risk for serious illness.

Healthy adults and children are at risk for egg-associated salmonellosis, but the elderly, infants, and persons with impaired immune systems are at increased risk for serious illness. In these persons, a relatively small number of Salmonella bacteria can cause severe illness. Most of the deaths caused by Salmonella enteritidis have occurred among the elderly in nursing homes. Egg-containing dishes prepared for any of these high-risk persons in hospitals, in nursing homes, in restaurants, or at home should be thoroughly cooked and served promptly.

What is the risk?

In affected parts of the United States, it is estimated that one in 50 average consumers could be exposed to a contaminated egg each year. If that egg is thoroughly cooked, the Salmonella organisms will be destroyed and will not make the person sick. Many dishes made in restaurants or commercial or institutional kitchens, however, are made from pooled eggs. If 500 eggs are pooled, one batch in 20 will be contaminated and everyone who eats eggs from that batch is at risk. A healthy person's risk for infection by Salmonella enteritidis is low, even in the northeastern United States, if individually prepared eggs are properly cooked, or foods are made from pasteurized eggs.

What can I do to reduce risk?