The new rules are expected to prevent 79,000 illnesses and 30 deaths per year caused by consumption of eggs contaminated with the bacteria, known as Salmonella enteritidis, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Consumers who eat infected raw or undercooked eggs with the Salmonella strain can experience serious health problems, such as gastrointestinal illness, arthritis and death.
The FDA said most egg producers with 3,000 or more laying hens must test their poultry houses for the bacteria and establish rodent, pest and biosecuirity measures to prevent the spread of Salmonella throughout the farm. The agency estimated these and other preventative measures would reduce illnesses by 60 percent. It estimated the cost to the industry would be $81 million a year.
The new rules also would require eggs to be refrigerated at 45 degrees Fahrenheit (7 Celsius) during storage and transportation beginning 36 hours after the eggs are laid.
"Preventing harm to consumers is our first priority," FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said. "Today's action will prevent thousands of serious illnesses from Salmonella in eggs."
The new egg rules were included as part of a broader food safety plan released on Tuesday to curb contamination in food processing plants and increase traceability following an outbreak of foodborne illness. The FDA said producers who find the Salmonella strain in their poultry house must conduct four additional tests from the representative sample during an eight-week period. If any of the four tests are positive, the eggs must be further processed to destroy the bacteria or used in a nonfood manner.
Producers whose eggs are processed, such as being pasteurized, will not be required to comply with the tougher preventative measures. FDA said they must still comply with the refrigeration rules.