Location:
FOOD PRODUCTS; RETAIL TRADE;
Scope:
Connecticut laws/regulations;

OLR Research Report


October 14, 2011

 

2011-R-0352

FREE-RANGE EGGS

By: Janet L. Kaminski Leduc, Senior Legislative Attorney

You asked if only two entities in Connecticut (UConn and Gresczyk Farms) can sell free-range eggs to food service establishments and what statute or regulation permits this. You also asked how many times in the past 10 years have factory (non-free-range) eggs been associated with a foodborne illness outbreak (e.g., Salmonella) and if there has been any instance of foodborne illness tied to free-range eggs.

SUMMARY

In order to sell eggs, whether free-range or non-free-range, to food service establishments in Connecticut, an entity must undergo federal or state inspection and become an “approved food source” under the Public Health Code (Conn. Agencies Regs. 19-13-B42(n)). According to the Connecticut Department of Agriculture (DoAg), three entities are currently approved to sell eggs to food service establishments: (1) Kofkoff Egg Farm, (2) UConn, and (3) Gresczyk Farms.

Free-range eggs are eggs produced using birds that are permitted continuous access to the outside for more than 51% of their lives through a normal growing cycle, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Factory eggs are from birds typically raised in battery cages. (The Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH) notes that “free range” refers to the chicken, not the egg.) All eggs, whether from a free-range or housed chicken are subject to current state and federal regulations.

According to DPH, based on information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 93 outbreaks of illness either confirmed or suspected to be associated with eggs from 1998 to 2009, the most recent data available. CDC does not track the source of the eggs, so we cannot identify which outbreaks were tied to free-range or factory eggs. For the 93 outbreaks, there were 2,548 illnesses, 225 hospitalizations, and two deaths reported.

SELLING EGGS TO FOOD SERVICE ESTABLISHMENTS

In Connecticut, there are two ways to sell eggs to the public: (1) direct to the consumer (e.g., from farm stands) and (2) in retail or food service establishments (e.g., restaurants). Direct to consumer sales are largely unregulated, according to DoAg. But the Public Health Code governs the selling of eggs in retail and food service establishments. The code does not distinguish between free-range and factory eggs.

Since 1963, the Public Health Code has required all food in food service establishments to be from “sources approved or considered satisfactory by the director of health.” Effective July 6, 2001, the public health director approves a food source in “conformity with principles, practices, and generally recognized standards that protect public health.” And eggs must be “from commercial, regulated sources inspected according to law … received clean and sound, and … graded as required by law” (Conn. Agencies Regs. 19-13-B42(n)).

In practice, an entity can become an approved food source for eggs by being inspected by the (1) USDA if the operation has 3,000 or more birds or (2) DoAg if the operation has between 200 to 3,000 birds. Under DoAg administrative policy, operations with 200 or fewer birds cannot sell eggs to food service establishments in Connecticut.

DoAg previously maintained a minimum threshold of 500 birds for inspection purposes, but lowered the threshold to 200 birds in November 2010 in response to farmers' requests. The minimum threshold is meant to be a reasonable size requirement to identify a commercial operation.

According to DoAg, three entities have gone through the required inspection process to sell eggs to food service establishments: (1) Kofkoff Egg Farm (USDA inspected), (2) UConn (DoAg inspected), and (3) Gresczyk Farms (DoAg inspected).

For more information, see DoAg's Small Egg Processing Plant Inspection Program Compliance Guide at http://www.ct.gov/doag/lib/doag/inspection_regulation/shell_egg_processing_inspection_program_v2.pdf.

FOODBORNE ILLNESS ASSOCIATED WITH EGGS

Salmonella Enteridis

The most prevalent foodborne illness associated with eggs is Salmonella Enteridis (SE). A person infected with SE usually has fever, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea beginning 12 to 72 hours after eating a contaminated food. Illness usually lasts four to seven days and most people recover without antibiotic treatment. However, the illness can be severe and hospitalization may be required. The elderly, infants, and those with impaired immune systems may experience a more serious illness. In such patients, the infection can spread to the blood stream and other body sites and can be fatal unless treated promptly with antibiotics, according to the CDC. For more information about SE, see http://www.cdc.gov/nczved/divisions/dfbmd/diseases/salmonella_enteritidis/.

National Reports of SE

DPH provided data from the CDC's National Outbreak Reporting System (NORS), which tracks outbreaks of foodborne illness. Table 1 (attached below) identifies all incidences of SE illness where eggs were either confirmed or suspected as the source of contamination from 1998 to 2009, the most recent data available. (NORS does not track data related to the source of the eggs, so we cannot separate the incidences between free-range or factory eggs.)

In addition, the CDC reports that from May 1 to November 20, 2010, approximately 1,939 illnesses were likely associated with an outbreak of SE tracked to eggs (http://www.cdc.gov/salmonella/enteritidis/). In August 2010, Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms, both in Iowa, conducted a nationwide voluntary recall of eggs as a result of the SE outbreak. According to DPH, there were no reports of SE in Connecticut tied to that outbreak (http://www.newstimes.com/news/article/Connecticut-official-No-egg-illness-in-623484.php).

FEDERAL REGULATION

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a regulation effective September 8, 2009 that requires large egg producers (3,000 or more birds) to take preventive measures during the production of eggs in poultry houses and refrigerate eggs during storage and transportation. The FDA believes the regulation will prevent approximately 79,000 cases of foodborne illness each year related to SE.

Producers with at least 3,000 but fewer than 50,000 laying hens must comply with the rule within 36 months of its publication. Producers with 50,000 or more laying hens must comply within 12 months. A copy of the final rule is available at http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodSafety/Product-SpecificInformation/EggSafety/EggSafetyActionPlan/ucm170746.htm.

Under the regulation, producers must:

1. buy chicks and young hens only from suppliers who monitor for Salmonella bacteria;

2. establish rodent, pest control, and biosecurity measures to prevent the spread of bacteria throughout the farm by people and equipment;

3. conduct testing in the poultry house for SE;

4. clean and disinfect poultry houses that have tested positive for SE; and

5. refrigerate eggs at 45 degrees Fahrenheit during storage and transportation within 36 hours after the eggs are laid.

Producers must (1) maintain a written SE prevention plan and records documenting their compliance and (2) register with the FDA.

TABLE 1: SALMONELLA OUTBREAKS ASSOCIATED WITH EGGS (1998-2009)

Month

Year

State

Location Of Consumption

Total Illnesses

Total Hospitalizations

Total Deaths

Food Vehicle

January

1998

Washington

Private home

4

0

0

eggnog, homemade

January

1998

California

Private home

26

3

0

eggs, other; lasagna, unspecified

March

1998

California

Private home

6

1

0

eggs, other; ice cream, unspecified

March

1998

Virginia

Restaurant - other or unknown type

23

5

0

eggs, other; pie, unspecified

April

1998

Utah

Restaurant - other or unknown type

22

2

0

egg rolls; Fried Rice; soup, egg drop

June

1998

Pennsylvania

Private home

6

1

0

eggs, other; ice cream, unspecified

July

1998

Ohio

Private home

4

0

0

eggs, unspecified

August

1998

Hawaii

 

38

3

0

eggs, other

September

1998

Wisconsin

Restaurant - other or unknown type

3

0

0

eggs, unspecified

October

1998

Florida

Restaurant - other or unknown type

2

2

0

eggs, unspecified

October

1998

California

Nursing home, assisted living facility, home care

4

4

1

eggs, unspecified

December

1998

Pennsylvania

Private home

7

0

0

eggs, other; oysters, unspecified

December

1998

Pennsylvania

Private home

21

7

0

eggs, unspecified; potato stuffings

January

1999

California

Restaurant - other or unknown type

3

0

0

eggs benedict

January

1999

Colorado

Restaurant - other or unknown type

3

   

eggs, over-easy

April

1999

Pennsylvania

Other

18

1

0

eggs, scrambled

July

1999

Washington

Workplace, not cafeteria

2

   

eggs, unspecified

July

1999

California

Nursing home, assisted living facility, home care

3

0

0

eggs, other

July

1999

Washington

 

3

   

eggs, unspecified

July

1999

California

School

29

   

eggs, unspecified

July

1999

Wisconsin

Nursing home, assisted living facility, home care

4

0

0

eggs, unspecified

July

1999

Wisconsin

Nursing home, assisted living facility, home care

5

3

0

eggs, unspecified

Table 1: -Continued-

Month

Year

State

Location Of Consumption

Total Illnesses

Total Hospitalizations

Total Deaths

Food Vehicle

July

1999

California

 

33

0

0

eggs, unspecified

August

1999

North Carolina

Restaurant - other or unknown type

14

4

0

eggs, other; lasagna

August

1999

New Jersey

Camp

60

1

 

eggs, unspecified

September

1999

Connecticut

Restaurant - other or unknown type

4

1

0

eggs, unspecified

October

1999

California

Private home

6

   

eggs, unspecified

November

1999

Wisconsin

Restaurant - other or unknown type

33

0

0

eggs, other; lasagna, unspecified; ravioli, unspecified

December

1999

South Carolina

School

18

0

0

eggs, quiche

December

1999

California

Private home; Workplace, not cafeteria

10

0

0

eggs, unspecified; lasagna, beef

March

2000

Michigan

Restaurant - other or unknown type

11

0

0

eggs, unspecified

May

2000

Maine

Restaurant - other or unknown type

2

1

0

eggs, unspecified

June

2000

New Jersey

Nursing home, assisted living facility, home care

41

8

0

eggs, unspecified

June

2000

Maine

Restaurant - other or unknown type

2

0

0

eggs, unspecified

July

2000

Virginia

Nursing home, assisted living facility, home care

27

   

eggs, unspecified

August

2000

Nevada

Other

50

5

0

egg-containing food, other

September

2000

Utah

Restaurant - other or unknown type

12

0

 

egg-based sauce, other; taco, fish

September

2000

Minnesota

Restaurant - other or unknown type

16

1

0

egg-containing food, other; multiple foods

September

2000

New Jersey

Nursing home, assisted living facility, home care

18

2

0

eggs, unspecified

October

2000

New York

Nursing home, assisted living facility, home care

4

0

 

eggs, other

December

2000

New York

Private home

12

6

 

eggnog, unspecified

February

2001

Colorado

Restaurant - other or unknown type

6

1

0

eggs, unspecified

March

2001

Ohio

Restaurant - other or unknown type

92

7

0

eggs, unspecified

Table 1: -Continued-

Month

Year

State

Location Of Consumption

Total Illnesses

Total Hospitalizations

Total Deaths

Food Vehicle

April

2001

Virginia

Restaurant - other or unknown type

231

34

0

egg-based sauce, other

April

2001

Massachusetts

Other

29

3

0

egg-containing food, other

April

2001

Maine

Private home

12

0

0

egg-containing food, other

April

2001

Maine

Restaurant - other or unknown type

42

5

0

egg-containing food, other; eggs benedict; hollandaise sauce

May

2001

Nevada

Prison, jail

317

0

0

eggs, unspecified; raw egg milkshake

May

2001

Minnesota

Restaurant - other or unknown type

54

2

0

eggs benedict

June

2001

Pennsylvania

Church, temple, etc; Restaurant - other or unknown type

12

3

0

eggs, other; pie, merengue

June

2001

Minnesota

Restaurant - other or unknown type

16

4

0

eggs, unspecified

June

2001

North Carolina

Unknown or undetermined

113

0

0

eggs, unspecified

July

2001

Michigan

Restaurant - other or unknown type; Workplace, not cafeteria

34

2

0

egg salad/egg salad sandwich; tuna salad

July

2001

Michigan

Restaurant - other or unknown type

5

0

0

eggs, unspecified

March

2002

Tennessee

School

18

0

0

egg-containing food, other

June

2002

Florida

Restaurant - other or unknown type

2

0

0

eggs, over-easy

December

2002

Washington

Private home; Restaurant - other or unknown type

40

2

0

eggs, unspecified

March

2003

California

Restaurant - other or unknown type

7

0

0

eggs benedict; eggs, other; omelet

March

2003

Washington

Restaurant - other or unknown type

47

1

0

eggs, other; ice cream, fried

April

2003

Pennsylvania

Other

67

2

0

eggs, unspecified; soup, chicken; soup, mushroom

May

2003

Wisconsin

Prison, jail

3

   

eggs, unspecified

June

2003

California

Private home; Restaurant - other or unknown type

9

3

0

eggs, unspecified; refried beans, unspecified

Table 1: -Continued-

Month

Year

State

Location Of Consumption

Total Illnesses

Total Hospitalizations

Total Deaths

Food Vehicle

July

2003

Georgia

Hospital

38

   

eggs, scrambled

September

2003

Multistate outbreak reported by CDC

Unknown or undetermined

22

2

0

egg salad/egg salad sandwich

September

2003

Minnesota

Restaurant - other or unknown type

57

7

0

eggs, unspecified; pancakes, unspecified

October

2003

Florida

Other

58

   

egg salad/egg salad sandwich

October

2003

Virginia

Private home

6

1

0

eggs, other; potato, mashed

May

2004

Wisconsin

Private home

6

1

0

egg-containing food, other

May

2004

Minnesota

Restaurant - other or unknown type

4

2

0

eggs, unspecified

June

2004

Multistate outbreak reported by CDC

Private home; Restaurant - other or unknown type

155

16

 

eggs, unspecified; onion, unspecified; taco, beef

June

2004

Wisconsin

Restaurant - other or unknown type

19

5

0

eggs, unspecified; seabass, unspecified

August

2004

Minnesota

Private home

5

1

0

egg baked/casserole

August

2004

Pennsylvania

Restaurant - other or unknown type

2

0

0

eggs, over-easy

August

2004

Pennsylvania

Picnic; Private home

16

1

1

eggs, unspecified; potato salad

September

2004

Michigan

Restaurant - other or unknown type

16

1

0

egg-containing food, other

October

2004

Mississippi

Unknown or undetermined

20

12

0

egg-containing food, other

November

2004

Illinois

Restaurant - other or unknown type

5

2

0

eggs, other

January

2005

Florida

Restaurant - other or unknown type

7

1

0

eggs, unspecified; french-toast, unspecified

March

2005

Virginia

Prison, jail

27

1

0

eggs, other

March

2005

Pennsylvania

Private home

3

3

0

eggs, raw

June

2005

California

Restaurant - other or unknown type

3

   

eggs benedict

Table 1: -Continued-

Month

Year

State

Location Of Consumption

Total Illnesses

Total Hospitalizations

Total Deaths

Food Vehicle

June

2005

Wyoming

Private home; Restaurant - other or unknown type

20

4

0

eggs, unspecified; tomato, unspecified

October

2005

California

Restaurant - other or unknown type

6

0

0

eggs, unspecified

February

2006

North Carolina

Restaurant - other or unknown type

9

2

0

eggs benedict

November

2006

Arizona

Private home; Restaurant - other or unknown type

13

5

0

eggs, over-easy

December

2006

Pennsylvania

Private home

10

2

0

egg baked/casserole

January

2007

Multistate outbreak reported by CDC

Private home

81

9

0

eggs, scrambled

February

2007

Indiana

Restaurant - other or unknown type

15

6

0

eggs, scrambled

June

2008

Virginia

Private home

6

0

0

eggs, scrambled

November

2008

Pennsylvania

Private home

15

1

0

egg-containing food, other

December

2008

Massachusetts

Private home

18

10

0

eggnog, homemade

July

2009

Oregon

Camp

59

0

0

eggs, scrambled

July

2009

Washington

Private Home; Restaurant - "Fast-food"(drive up service or pay at counter)

62

0

0

eggs, scrambled

               

TOTAL

     

2,548

225

2

 

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Outbreak Reporting System (accessed October 4, 2011 by the Connecticut Department of Public Health).

JKL:ts