- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 14, 2001

Word to families, foodies and hash-slingers looking to please: Runny isnt funny and a loose yolk is no joke.
Thus comes a new health warning from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which, starting Sept. 4, will require labels on cartons that urge consumers to cook the eggs until the yellow part is firm.
While some may favor their breakfast eggs prepared sunny-side up or over easy, the agency also has drafted a proposal that could require restaurants to "provide a written disclosure" to customers that such eggs could "increase their risk" for salmonella poisoning.
Not everyone believes such warnings are necessary for most Americans.
"Theres a 1 in 20,000 chance of eating a contaminated egg in this country. Thats extremely rare when you consider how many people in the United States eat eggs," said Steven Grover, vice president of safety and regulatory affairs for the National Restaurant Association.
Donald McNamara, executive director of the United Egg Producers Egg Nutrition Center, says 60 billion of the incredible edibles are sold in the U.S. yearly.
"The average consumer eats 260 eggs per year. With the odds of his eating a contaminated egg at only 1 in 20,000, it means a person could run into an egg capable of making him sick every 84 years," he said. The average life expectancy is now only 77 years.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest petitioned the FDA for warnings on or about eggs. In the past, the group has raised concerns about the healthfulness and safety of a variety of foods, ranging from movie theater popcorn to fettucine Alfredo.
"All people are at risk of getting sick from salmonella in an egg. Those who are at risk of dying are the elderly, the immune-suppressed and young children," said Caroline Smith DeWaal, director of food safety for the center.
But John Doyle, spokesman for the Guest Choice Network, a group that believes adults dont need help deciding what they should or shouldnt eat, accuses the Center for Science in the Public Interest of "hyping hysteria."
"I cook sunny-side up eggs for my kids, and Im very comfortable doing that. Were talking about an infinitesimally small percentage of [salmonella] outbreaks from eggs," Mr. Doyle said.
Few restaurants seem poised to stop serving eggs over easy or sunny-side up if customers want them.
Debbie Atkins, a spokeswoman for Dennys, says the 1,800-restaurant chain already has a message on its menu that says: "Eggs that are soft-boiled, sunny-side up, or soft poached may be undercooked, and are served only upon request."
Ms. Atkins said only 2 percent of customers request eggs sunny-side up. Another 15 perecent ask for eggs "over easy," "over hard," or turned over and cooked in some other way. Most request scrambled eggs, she said.
Mr. Grover questions the need for "broad-brush" warnings about eggs when so many victims of salmonella enteritidis, the strain found in eggs, are elderly people.
"About 40 percent of those who die from salmonella are residents of nursing homes. … They should be targeting individuals in institutions or nursing homes," he said.
Regarding the warnings on all egg cartons, Mr. Grover said, "You dont get responsible medical advice from reading labels on cartons."
An FDA spokeswoman said yesterday there were 389 confirmed outbreaks of salmonella in the United States between 1985 and 1999. "Of that total, 287 were associated with foods having eggs as a major ingredient," she said.
Another FDA official said recent data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that egg-related salmonella outbreaks result in about 125,000 illnesses in the United States yearly.
"They range from mild symptoms to severe intestinal problems all the way up to death. Approximately 50 deaths yearly are associated with salmonella enteritidis in eggs," said the official, who asked not to be identified.
He also said the FDA is "doing a very extensive campaign" with nursing homes and other facilities with elderly populations to get them to make sure they serve only fully cooked eggs to patients.
The FDA official says the government is not trying to give the egg industry a hard time.
"Eggs are a nutritious form of protein. Were just trying to ensure they are safe as well," he said.
In fact, the United Egg Producers has been working closely with the FDA to develop the new safety rules. Mr. McNamara of the Egg Nutrition Center believes the changes will be beneficial.
"Weve had safe-handling labels on chicken, pork and beef. And now they will be on eggs as well," he said.
He noted that better refrigeration of eggs and increased use of pasteurized eggs and of sauces and dressings made from pasteurized eggs have already helped reduce egg-induced salmonella by 48 percent in recent years.
"So this is important action by the government on a declining problem," Mr. Grover said.

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