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The BBC's Nicola Carslaw
"Heat treated to be guaranteed salmonella free"
 real 56k

Tuesday, 1 August, 2000, 02:22 GMT 03:22 UK
Scientists cook up salmonella-free egg
egg packing line
Salmonella is still a problem for the industry
By consumer affairs correspondent Nicola Carslaw

Food technologists are claiming a scientific advance with the development of the first, guaranteed, salmonella-free egg.

They have found a way to pasteurise the egg in its shell - a process that rids the food of the dangerous bacterium without actually cooking the egg.

Shoppers could be buying the new, heat-treated products as early as next year.

The egg industry was forced into cleaning up its act after Edwina Currie, as Tory junior health minister, said most UK production was contaminated with salmonella.

That was in the late 1980s. Now, flocks of hens are vaccinated against the disease and are reared using husbandry methods thought less likely to support salmonella.

Shoppers currently look for a red lion logo stamped on eggs as an assurance of quality. But although salmonella cases in humans have dropped dramatically in the last two years, the food poisoning is still a significant problem.

Commercial secret

UK Government health advice is that recipes for uncooked dishes using raw eggs should be avoided, while vulnerable groups, such as mothers-to-be, very young children and elderly or chronically sick people, should not eat lightly cooked eggs.

red lion symbol
The red lion symbol was reintroduced in January after almost 30 years of non use
The latest development from food technologists at the Sainsbury's supermarket company could lead to a change in that advice.

Alec Kyriakides, a company microbiologist, said the pasteurising process was a commercial secret and refused to give many details about what methods were involved.

However, he confirmed that the process required freshly-laid eggs to be put in a special type of oven.

In the kitchens at Sainsbury's headquarters in London, we cracked open pasteurised eggs and compared them with the standard kind.

The yolks all looked similar. In fact, the only difference was that the white of the heat-treated egg was slightly whiter - less transparent than the regular white eggs.

Mixed welcome

As for taste and smell, there was no difference.

Linda Ward, who heads up the salmonella unit at the Public Health Laboratory Service, told the BBC that anything that reduced salmonella outbreaks must be good news.

However, not everyone was so welcoming towards the prototype pasteurised egg.

Tim Lobstein, co-director of the consumer group, the Food Commission, said he feared it could simply lead to bad egg production methods.

He said it was not the responsibility of retailers to clean up, but the duty of the egg industry to ensure its practices were better in the first place.

The pasteurised eggs are now being consumer tested for Sainsbury's. The company wants to know, for example, if the eggs will make good meringues.

The eggs could be on sale next year - at a higher cost than standard eggs. And, who knows - perhaps the retailer will tempt Edwina Currie to promote its newest product.

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See also:

28 Jul 00 | Health
Tough targets on food poisoning
19 Jul 00 | Health
Concern over food safety record
31 Jul 00 | UK
Europe snubs British beef
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