Egg Safety and the Berkeley Farmers’ Market

Ben Feldman, Program Manager of the Berkeley Farmers’ Markets, discusses the reasons why buying eggs at the farmers’ market is safer that buying eggs at a grocery store: “Salmonella enteritidis, the strain of the bacteria responsible for the current recall, has become the single most common type of food poisoning in the US. Chickens act as a host for the bacteria without developing symptoms, and infected feces can spread rapidly in flocks. Poor hygiene and close proximity compound the problem. As you might expect, industrial scale production of eggs creates ideal conditions for the spread of disease, including Salmonella enteritidis.”

“Many scientific studies have shown an increased presence of Salmonella enteritidis in caged chickens compared with free-range or pastured chickens. A recent, comprehensive study published in the British scientific journal, Veterinary Record, showed caged hens were infected with Salmonella enteritidis at a rate nearly ten times higher than hens raised in barns or free-range. The same study showed that the size of the operation matters as well. In operations with more than 30,000 hens, over a quarter of the hens tested positive, whereas operations with between 1,000 and 29,999 (operations under 1,000 hens were not tested) had rates under 5%.

“There is another reason why buying eggs at the farmers’ market is safer than eggs at a grocery store: freshness. Supermarket eggs can be over a month old when you buy them, but eggs at the farmers’ market are usually less than a week old. Salmonella and other types of bacteria can reproduce rapidly. The longer eggs sit, the more opportunity for bacterial growth.

“Purchasing your eggs at a farmers’ market is no silver bullet that promises perfect food safety, but the production practices utilized by vendors at the Berkeley Farmers’ Markets are some of the best ways to avoid infection in the hens. At the farmers’ market you have another tool to help prevent food borne illness: information. Ask about the production practices used in raising the eggs you buy. You can do this at the grocery store as well, but chances are, you won’t get as much information. Good questions include the number of hens, whether they are caged, when the eggs were laid, and how the eggs were handled and transported.”

Eggs from the following farms are available at the Berkeley Farmers’ Markets:
Riverdog Farm (Tues, Thur, Sat): certified organic, pasture raised eggs
Kaki Farm (Tues, Sat): eggs laid by chickens that run free on an organic persimmon farm
Full Belly Farm (Tues): eggs from pasture raised hens that live on an organic farm
Phan Farm (Thur): eggs from chickens raised on an organic farm
Ludwig Avenue Farm (Tues, Sat): duck, goose, and chicken eggs
Brooks and Daughters (Tues, Sat): extremely limited quantities of eggs from chickens raised on sprouts
Highland Hills Farm (Tues, Thur, Sat): beautiful eggs of different colors from pasture raised hens

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