Wednesday, August 25, 2010

What came first: The chicken or the salmonella?

8/24/2010 9:23:53 AM
by Andrew Odom
This morning Fox News reported that,
"approximately 1,300 people have been sickened in a salmonella outbreak linked to eggs in three states and possibly more, and health officials on Wednesday dramatically expanded a recall to 380 million eggs.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working with state health departments to investigate the illnesses. No deaths have been reported, said Dr. Christopher Braden, a CDC epidemiologist involved in the investigation.
Initially, 228 million eggs were recalled but that number was increased to the equivalent of nearly 32 million dozen-egg cartons.
The outbreak was linked to in-shell eggs from Wright County Egg in Galt, Iowa, according to Sherri McGarry of the Food and Drug Administration."

So I sit here, staring out at one of our flocks, there is a salmonella outbreak in America that has now possibly effected some 384 million eggs.

Wright County Egg – an Iowa based company – ships all the way to places like California, and sells eggs to distributors like Lucerne, Albertson, Mountain Dairy, Ralph's, Boomsma's, Sunshine, Hillandale, Trafficanda, Farm Fresh, Shoreland, Lund, Dutch Farms and Kemp. (You can read more about these companies and egg safety by visiting this site.)


Now here at Odom's Idle Acres we not only raise a flock of laying hens (6-7 eggs/day) but we also raise a flock of broilers for meat. I am finding myself more and more bothered by this situation with each passing day. In past months we have seen the number of backyard flocks rise sharply due to grocery prices and the push for locavore living and sourcing ones food. A large number of cities - including San Francisco and New York City - allow small, backyard flocks (6-10 birds) and cities are consistently allowing for more backyard flocks and larger flocks. Having said that, do we really need to ship eggs half way across the country?

It's fair to say that the further you ship an item such as eggs the more risk you are taking. Not to mention the fact that it just isn't necessary. Most of America has a climate hospitable to chickens and a number of communities in the middle of the country and the southeast region claim poultry as one of their top agricultural motivators.

But let me return to the facts; 384 million eggs. I can't even process a number that large. Here. Allow me to write it out – 384,000,000. How many chickens must it take to even produce that many eggs? Especially if you are talking about only one supplier; in this particular case, Wright County Egg of Galt, Iowa. I refuse to believe that raising chickens in a cramped, over crowded, enclosed area breeds things other than healthy chickens. And in order to produce that many eggs I can't help but to think that ANY brooding quarters are cramped, over crowded, and enclosed. Enter salmonella.

Now, I am no dummy. Any egg can contain salmonella bacteria. But the likelihood of an organic egg from a free-ranged hen (or even a hen given ample space to roam, lay, brood, etc.) is far less likely to be contaminated with this pathogen simply because the environment isn't as much of a breeding ground for the bacteria.

If you have ever thought about raising your own layers, now is the time to really move forward. It takes relatively little time, little money, little effort and the results are profound. Check with your city to see what the ordinance is on backyard flocks. You might be surprised to find there are already people right in your neighborhood eating eggs from their own little "homestead."
Before I sign off though I want to share a few tips for avoiding salmonella:
  •    Collect eggs often (daily, even) and refrigerate as soon as possible, especially now, during the summer.
  •    Keep nesting areas clean and free of litter or bugs.
  •    Clean your coop thoroughly at least once a month. If you don't want to stick your nose in there what makes you think a chicken would?
  •    Maintain a healthy flock. If a chicken seems ill, isolate her. Check with your local feed 'n seed or ask the opinion of another "farmer."
  •    Don't introduce new birds until you have quarantined them long enough to know they are healthy.
  •    Do not wash the egg but rather use a dry brush to remove fecal matter that may have collected on the egg. Wash only as a last resort.
  •    Cook all egg products.
Salmonella poisoning is serious and can cause some horrible maladies. Outbreaks should be extremely rare though. The best way to protect your family is, as always, to know your egg farmer; either the one in your region or the one that sleeps in your bed at night.

So what are your thoughts and/or concerns about this outbreak and/or raising layers of your own?

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