Last week, I focused on the two prevalent animal welfare labels you see on egg cartons – UEP Certified Modern Cage and UEP Certified Cage-free. This blog focuses on USDA Certified Organic eggs and how this label is related to food safety.
Organic eggs are produced and processed according to USDA Certified Organic standards under the National Organic Program. These standards assure that crops and livestock are produced without using conventional pesticides, petroleum or sewage sludge-based fertilizers, antibiotics, or growth hormones. Organic livestock, including laying hens, must be feed organic feed and given access to the outdoors.
Organic eggs can be produced by hens that live in cage-free or free-range housing systems. There are two food safety concerns attached to organically produced eggs. The first food safety concern is the requirement for hens to have access to the outdoors. This access to outdoors allows for easier contraction of pathogens, like Salmonella Enteritidis, or diseases, like Avian Influenza, from wild birds and pests to the laying hens. If laying hens are to contract Salmonella Enteritidis, they can shed it in the egg, which could potentially lead to food-borne illness if the eggs are not properly handled. The second food safety issue includes the monitoring of the hens and their environment. If monitoring is not conducted enough, there is a possibility that eggs will be laid out of the nest, exposing the eggs to waste and other potential routes for bacteria or mold contamination.
Just because eggs are labeled organic eggs does not ensure that you are receiving a safer egg product than conventional – both production systems should be considered equal. When purchasing organic eggs, make sure you look for the USDA Organic symbol to ensure you are getting the safest organic eggs produced.