Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

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Sick Chickens to Blame for Salmonella Outbreak

9/3/2010 5:22:45 PM

Tags: food safety, industrial agriculture

Raw EggDid you know that eggs are naturally germ-free, due to bacteria-fighting proteins found within the egg white? Bacteria may invade the egg through a crack in the shell, and maybe even make it past the membrane, but when it hits the egg white, three proteins work together to provide effective protection against contamination. The catch? That egg has to come from a healthy chicken. An Aug. 31 National Public Radio (NPR) segment by Anna Vigran presented this interesting look inside the shell:

“One of these [proteins] is called lysozyme. It isn’t just in egg whites — it’s also in tears, saliva and the drippy stuff that comes out of your nose. In fact, that's how it was discovered by Alexander Fleming (who also discovered penicillin) — Fleming happened to notice that when drips from his nose fell onto certain bacteria, they died.”

According to the NPR report, Lysozyme in effect explodes illness-causing bacteria. The other two proteins prevent bacteria from obtaining what they need to grow.

So why are so many people battling the recent salmonella outbreak? Those proteins are no match for the level of contamination that sickened hens at the two Iowa facilities from which millions of tainted eggs were shipped. In the segment, retired microbiologist John Ingraham, author of March of the Microbes (Harvard University Press), says that salmonella-infected hens are likely to lay salmonella-infected eggs:

“Ingraham says if the egg comes from healthy chickens, like his, there’s no problem. But as the current egg recall shows, chickens are notoriously susceptible to infection with salmonella. And if the chicken that's laying the egg is infected with salmonella, it’s likely its eggs will be infected, too. That’s why we’re told to cook eggs and keep them cold — cooking kills the bacteria and cool temperatures slows microbial growth and helps the eggs last longer.”

Ready to enjoy eggs from your own backyard? Visit our Chicken and Egg Page, where you’ll find everything you need to know to get started.

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t brandt
3/19/2013 6:54:27 PM
From the FDA: almost 40% of commercial chickens are contaminated with Samonella, while free range may be as low as 10%. The meat itself is contaminated at a rate of about 10%. That's still very high and all chicken products should be considered contaminated when handling & preparing.(Campylobacter is present in 80% of chickens.) Chickens can "carry" Salmonella without appearing sick...As with any exposure to parthogenic microbes, inoccullum size is more important than mere exposure, so calves are unlikely to get sick from a small amount of Salmonella in the occassional presence of chick manure in the pasture. But anything is possible.

Faith Schlabach
3/19/2013 12:09:35 PM
Hi Alison; Do you know if healthy chickens even carry samenella in their poo? I have about 20 chickens in a building right beside a new calf barn we just built. then the though occurred to me that could they possibly make the calves sick if they ate grass where the chickens had pooped? I've always believed that free range animals are healthier and now studies prove it. Do you know of any studies that free range as a rule don't carry it? Again, do you know how I could find out? Calves are very delicate in the first 4-8 weeks. And these are our Once A Day Family Sized Jersey's with A2 genetics.

10/2/2010 9:40:21 AM
I've got some backyard chickens too. I was really thankful of this when the recalls came out. It's nice to know that what I'm feeding my family is safe. I didn't know that chickens could carry salmonella and not show syptoms.

10/2/2010 9:38:34 AM
I've got some backyard chickens too. I was really thankful of this when the recalls came out. It's nice to know that what I'm feeding my family is safe. I didn't know that chickens could carry salmonella and not show syptoms.

Robin C. Rutan_1
9/13/2010 1:47:23 PM
Due to salmonella issues, new nationwide laws about who can sel eggs and what must be done with them before selling, i.e. dipping in bleach solution, have made it impossible to legally sell a truly natural egg.

N Grossi
9/9/2010 2:13:57 AM
We have 5 backyard chickens, which have (finally) started giving us eggs. With all the current concern over salmonella in commercial eggs, I'm glad to have local, free-range eggs. However, I still am not certain: how do you know your chickens are not carrying or infected with salmonella? Apparently they can be asymptomatic, or so I understand. Is there a way to test? Who(m) should I contact?

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