Do I have contaminated eggs in my refrigerator?
Maybe. About half a billion eggs, sold under at least 16 different brand names, have been recalled. The egg industry has posted an updated list of recalled egg brands and their identifying package details.
So far, all of the recalled eggs were packaged on Aug. 17 or earlier. This means that the "sell by" dates stamped on the egg cartons may not yet have expired. (The packing date is stamped on the egg carton using the "Julian date" or the numbered day of the year. Jan. 1 is Julian date 1; Aug. 17 is Julian date 229, as 2010 is not a leap year).
Two previous recalls were issued by Wright County Egg of Galt, Iowa, on Aug. 13 and Aug. 18. On Aug. 20, Hillandale Farms of Iowa issued a third recall.
Hundreds of millions of eggs would make a lot of omelets. But the recalled eggs actually represent less than 1% of the U.S. egg supply. The U.S. produces around 67 billion eggs each year. About 47 billion are sold in the shell as table eggs; the rest are processed into products such as pasta, cake mix, ice cream, mayonnaise, and baked goods.
The huge size of the farm linked to the salmonella outbreak isn't unusual. More than 4,000 U.S. farms have 3,000 or more laying hens that produce about 90 eggs per 100 hens per day. About 17% of farms in the states that produce the most eggs (California in the west; Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, and Pennsylvania in the east) have more than 30,000 laying hens.
On the other hand, the FDA estimates that each year, U.S. farms distribute 2.3 million eggs filled with salmonella. The CDC estimates that one in 50 consumers is exposed to a contaminated egg each year.
Unfortunately, an egg contaminated with salmonella appears normal.
Here's the FDA's advice on how to identify the recalled eggs:
On the carton of eggs in your refrigerator, look for:
- Plant numbers — the four-digit plant number can be found on the short side of the carton. The numbers are preceded by the letter P (see graphic).
- Julian date — eggs are packaged with the Julian date on the short side of the carton after the plant number (see graphic). The Julian date tells what day of the year the eggs were packaged without the month, so Jan. 1 is 001, and Dec. 31 is 365.