Poultry Times has some bad news for devotees of backyard flocks and small, local farms. In a six-month study carried out last year in Pennsylvania, researchers from Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences collected and tested more than 6,000 eggs from more than 200 selling points across the state. They found that eggs from small flocks of chickens were more likely to be contaminated with Salmonella enteritidis than eggs sold in grocery stores, which typically come from larger flocks. That conclusion flies in the face of conventional wisdom that such eggs are safer to eat than “commercially produced” eggs.

Large flocks—over 3,000 birds—are regulated by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. FDA requires shell-egg producers from larger farms to be in compliance with the FDA Final Egg Rule, which aims to restrict pathogen growth. Farms with smaller flocks—fewer than 3,000 layer chickens—currently are exempt from the rule. They often sell their eggs directly to restaurants, health-food stores and farmers markets, or sell them at on-farm roadside stands. The Final Egg Rule requires placement of Salmonella-free chicks, intensive rodent control, cleaning and disinfecting between flocks, environmental monitoring of pullet and layer houses, continuous testing of eggs from Salmonella-positive houses, and diverting eggs from Salmonella-positive houses for pasteurization.

Researchers said the findings emphasize the importance of small-producer education on Salmonella enteritidis control measures and perhaps implementation of egg quality-assurance practices to prevent contamination of eggs produced by backyard and other small layer flocks. They said the growing demand for backyard eggs and eggs from small egg-producing flocks managed in cage-free systems and pasture situations suggests these production systems deserve additional scrutiny. Salmonella enteritidis, like other foodborne bacteria, is destroyed by proper cooking. READ MORE