This post was prompted by a new Slow Food USA video. Put together by filmmaker  Anthony Lappe and Josh Viertel president of Slow Food USA (who wrote about the issues behind it in The Atlantic ).  I’ve added an update below Dec 16 2010.

Josh talks about the ‘half a billion’ egg recalls and how

“In each story there have been similar narrative elements: large companies trying to get away with as much as they can, even if it means selling consumers product they know is contaminated; ineffective communication about violations between FDA and USDA; repeated bad actors allowed to stay in business; rapid and far-reaching spread of the product, making it challenging to recall all of it effectively; sick consumers and sometimes, tragically, dead ones.

The Department of Justice is starting to learn the story, and consumers are starting to learn too. The next step will be for government and individuals alike to demand a system that respects farmers, respects the environment, and respects the health and safety of consumers.”

Call me naive but I don’t get as anxious about our food production as I’m sure I would if I was in the USA,  feeling lucky about how I can mostly choose the stuff that goes into my body. It’s not because I think FSANZ, our food standards equivalent of the FDA, is better able to police the standards they set.  Maybe it’s because I get around and see a few more of the good producer stories. And I’m lucky to be able to make some choices because I can pay that little bit more for local produce.

If I don’t know the producer, I try to find out where it has come from, and that to me is one of the ‘Eat Local’ push big plusses, one that is usually taken for granted. The call for respect for farmers that Josh makes, takes a more prominent position on the stage for me. Once you respect and know the producer, you have trust in the product. That also works  for restaurants that tell us where the food they’re serving is sourced.

The traceability issue is much more important and twisted in the USA and big agribusiness is BIG ( ’50 percent of US eggs are produced in only five states’). We’re caught up here in truthful labelling more than traceable labelling but that will change.

Proposal P301 is FSANZ (Food Standards Australia New Zealand) draft aimed to reduce the incidence of foodborne illness linked to the consumption of eggs. And  to work towards the need to control safety and quality of egg production in Australia. There was a call for submissions in September 2009 and the Final Assessment  Report is due around now ‘mid-to-late 2010’ . The update on the process says

“FSANZ received a total of 22 submissions from industry, government and consumers. The main issues raised in submissions to the Draft Assessment Report concerned the scope of the standard, the use of cracked and dirty eggs and unpasteurised pulp and their role in causing foodborne illness, traceability, definitions, packaging and the labelling of eggs.

What is the next step in the standard development process?

“FSANZ will revise its analysis of the Proposal based on the issues raised and comments made in the submissions.   A revised report (Final Assessment Report) including a draft standard, will be presented to the FSANZ Board for its decision in mid-to-late 2010.

For now, I’ll keep eating my free-range eggs because I feel I know where they come from, at least until I can read the submissions and the final draft report. There was a recent (June 2010) recall of caged hens eggs in South East Queensland but you have to go back to 2007 for another recall, again in Qld. for organic free-range product with salmonella due to cracked and dirty eggs. Smaller producers and smaller distribution areas probably stop any major issues like they’ve had in the USA.

If the results of the egg report are like those in the the Raw Chicken Meat Microbiological Survey I’ll be more apprehensive and agitated (See that full report PDF) it states that…

“Salmonellosis is a notifiable disease in Australia. Campylobacteriosis is also a notifiable disease in all states and territories except New South Wales, where it is only notifiable in the case of an outbreak. Campylobacteriosis is the most commonly notified food-borne illness in Australia and it is estimated that approximately 30% of cases (or 83,100 cases per year) could be attributed to contaminated poultry meat (Stafford et al, 2007). Salmonellosis is the second most frequently notified illness at 9,484 notifications or 45 cases per 100,000 population (The OzFoodNet Working Group, 2008).”

We’ll keep you updated, as I’m sure the media will on the changes to ‘the Code’ on eggs.  All the FSANZ Fact sheets are online, (2009 and a few for 2010 ) along with a range of other food products that have raised alarms recently like Semi-Dried Tomatoes.

(The neglect of the official website for the industry organisation for poultry meat producers chicken.org.au is hopefully not a sign of the negelect of product standards. Lots of ‘Page not found’ results.  The consumer site for the Australian Egg Industry is a little more loved eggs.org.au but has no information on egg safety other than the following tips on storing eggs

Like all perishable foods, eggs need to be handled carefully. Follow these suggestions to ensure that you handle and prepare eggs properly:
• Always buy shell eggs that are clean and keep them refrigerated at home
• When storing eggs in the refrigerator, keep eggs in the carton and at a reasonable distance from other strongly flavoured / smelling foods items
• For all perishable foods allow no more than two hours at room temperature for preparation and serving
• Eggs should be cooked until the white is completely firm and the yolk begins to thicken
• For best quality, use fresh eggs within the ‘Best Before’ date as stated on the carton.  Avoid cross-contamination by washing hands, cookware, and counter-tops with hot, soapy water after preparing raw animal products, including eggs.

And they have a good recipe finder and meal list if you feel up to it.

Update December 2010

A followup on this issue  see  Bill Marler’s Think about the egg you are ordering this morning at your local diner 

And the Washington Post article where they describe the bureacratic mess that lead to this

The health of chickens falls under the USDA, but the FDA oversees the safety of whole eggs. Once an egg is broken and made into an “egg product,” responsibility for its safety switches back to the USDA.

The USDA also oversees transportation of whole eggs, but the FDA dictates how they should be stored once they reach restaurants or stores.

Because salmonella wasn’t making chickens sick, the USDA initially decided not to intervene. USDA inspectors are in packing facilities, but henhouses normally are the purview of the FDA. And the FDA rarely inspected henhouses.