I love eggs, but I hate food poisoning more.
I'm betting so do the more than 2,000 people who have been sickened by eating tainted eggs produced by factory chicken farms in Iowa. After all, no one I know enjoys the impact salmonella has on their digestive tract, since it induces vomiting, dizziness, diahrrea, fever, abdominal cramps, blood infections and even death.
Investigators are still trying to understand how this potentially lethal bacterium was able to infect so many eggs in such a short period of time. One possible cause is getting a lot of attention: the way the laying hens were raised. Conventional poultry operations raise millions of chickens at a time, often in confined spaces and under filthy and inhumane conditions that reduce the ability of the animals to fight off germs. When disease hits, it spreads like wildfire. But with a fire you can see the flames coming. With salmonella, you don't know it's got you until you're doubled over in pain or on your way to the emergency room.
For now, eggs in 14 states in the midwest have been recalled. The good news is that this amounts to less than 1 percent of all eggs produced in the U.S. Still, disease outbreaks like these remind all of us to be vigilant about the food we eat. The following precautions will help you stay healthy:
* Check for tainted eggs. Eggs being recalled are packaged under the following brand names: Albertsons, Farm Fresh, James Farms, Glenview, Mountain Dairy, Ralphs, Boomsma, Lund, Kemps and Pacific Coast. Eggs are packed in varying sizes of cartons (6-egg cartons, dozen egg cartons, 18-egg cartons, and loose eggs for institutional use and repackaging) with Julian dates ranging from 136 to 229 and plant numbers 1720 and 1942. If you find any eggs that contain these dates or plant numbers, return them to the store immediately.
* Throwaway cracked or discolored eggs. Even if they're not tainted with salmonella, they could be harboring other "bugs" that could make you sick. It's better to be safe than sorry.
* Buy eggs produced locally on small family farms. Small farms generally produce safer food because farmers have fewer animals to police. If an animal does get sick, chances are the farmer will find it and treat it before an entire flock becomes a threat. If the farms are certified organic, so much the better. You can find the nearest family farm here. If you're interested, take a look at Smith Meadows Farm. I buy their eggs (see their chickens in the picture below) at my local farmers market on Sundays.
* Follow the same steps for preparing raw eggs that you would for raw chicken: handle carefully, cook thoroughly, and wash your hands with hot, soapy water when you're finished.
* Avoid eating raw eggs in any form. Yes, that means skip the raw cookie dough, the raw cake batter, the raw muffin mix. If making scrambled eggs or french toast, you can tell the egg is cooked through because it won't look shiny and wet.
* Keep eggs refrigerated until you use them. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommends that eggs be kept in a refrigerator cooled to 45 degrees F.
* Raise your own chickens. Believe it or not, raising backyard chickens has become increasingly popular, and not just in rural communities. Many municipalities are re-considering zoning laws to allow people to keep chickens in their backyards; this is even true in dense urban areas like Seattle, Washington and Boston, Massachusetts.
For more information on salmonella, here's our recap of the salmonella that infected peanut butter last year.