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Safe Handling OF Shell Eggs: Underrated but Crucial In the Poultry Industry

Safe Handling OF Shell Eggs: Underrated but Crucial In the Poultry Industry

Gauri Jairath*,Rajat Bagdas and Devi Gopinath

ICAR-Indian Veterinary Research Institute Regional Station, Palampur-176061

*Corresponding author: gaurilpt@gmail.com

 

 

1.            Introduction

Global egg production is 86.67 million metric tons(Statista 2022), whereas, in India, it is 114.38 billion numbers (BAHS 2020). The global egg consumption/annum (161) depicts its importance in the human diet. As the egg is an important component in the diet chart, it must be of standard nutritional quality and safeto eat. Handling is an important step that plays a crucial role in maintaining the overall quality of eggs. Though reports of egg association with food-borne hazards are scarce, the possibility of nontyphoidal Salmonella spp. and fungal contamination can not be overlooked (Chousalkar, Khan, and McWhorter 2021). Handling of the egg is underrated in the egg industry; however, it is crucial at every step right from production to consumption. Egg producers may suffer huge losses as 10% of eggs are lost while routine handling (Dunn and Waddington 2009) and it may range from 2 to 12% (Hamilton and Bryden,2021). Managemental practices also play a decisive role in the hygienic production of eggs. The use of nest boxes, provision of clean nesting material and a calmer and darker corner to lay could be proved as a good strategy to produce cleaner eggs. Ceramic eggs or golf balls can be placed to increase the chances of laying in the nest boxes. Proper handling is the add-on to the managemental practices to produce cleaner eggs. 

Handling of eggs involves their proper collection, cleaning, storage and distribution/transportation and handling at the consumers’ end. Improper handling leads to breakage and soiling of shell eggs, microbial contamination and deterioration of nutritive value which are the major concerns with respect to producers and consumers. Further, as per the literature, soiled shell eggs are 3-4% more prone to shell breakage than unsoiled ones (Hamilton and Bryden,2021). Salmonella contamination of eggs is the best example of their unhygienic and unsafe handling. When the eggs are laid, the chances of Salmonella contamination always remain high. The bacteria can sustain on egg shell and unhygienic handling may welcome it to the kitchen surface, utensils and even food. Recently, in 2017, South Australia witnessed fifteen Salmonella outbreaks and out of which eleven were associated with eggs. The investigations concluded lack of knowledge and/ or safe handling practices of eggs and raw egg products were the main reasons of cross contamination from eggs (Govt. of South Australia 2017). Therefore, this chapter will deal with the standard collection, cleaning, storage and distribution procedures and consumers’ handling tips.

2.            Collection of eggs

Handling of eggs starts from their collection step. A proper strategic collection is a pre-requisite step to yield high-quality eggs. Poor collection strategy may result in the breakage of shells, contamination and soiling of eggs. Usually, eggs are laid in the early morning (within 5 hr of the first light in the morning), thus eggs may be collected as per hen laying time. Collection can be done 2-3 times a day to avoid breakage and soiling. Similarly, in extreme climatic conditions, the collection should be done frequently to avoid quality deterioration. Following points shall be considered while collecting the eggs:

1.            Collection should only be started once the hens stopped laying and not at laying spot.

2.            Feed the birds immediately before collection as it would keep them busy.

3.            Collection step should be as quick as possible to avoid any distress to birds.

4.            Hands of the person involved in egg collection should be cleaned and sanitized.

5.            Eggs should be collected in coated wire baskets or plastic containers to facilitate cleaning and disinfection.

6.            The collection container must not put any kind of pressure on the eggs.

7.            Stacking of eggs upto 5 layers is permissible. Higher stacking should be avoided as it may call for fall and consequently breakage.

8.            Already broken or leaky eggs must be collected separately in other baskets.

In modernized farms, egg collection systems can be installed in A-frame layer cage system or H-frame stacked layer cage system that has many advantages like hygienic egg production with compliance of safety standards, lower stress to birds, reduced chances of egg shell breakages and high performance with lower manpower requirement.

3.            Cleaning of eggs

Cleaning is the most important step among post-collection handling activities that needs to be performed without any unnecessary delay as eggs are usually covered with feather, feed residues, dust and faces. Mild detergents may be used for such dirt cleaning. Dirty eggs must not be cooled directly without washing as cooling may result in shell contraction that may pull contaminants from the surface to the pores. Cleaning can be done by two ways i.e., dry and wet cleaning.

Dry cleaning: It can be done either by brush or sponge. It should be gently done without putting pressure on the shell. Sand paper may also be used gently to rub the dirty spots. Even if the egg looks clean, it must be dusted with soft sponge or microfiber towel.

Wet cleaning: While wet cleaning of egg, some considerations should be taken likeeggs must not be fully immersed in water as it may facilitate the microbial passage to the inner side of eggs through shell pores and the temperature of wash water should be little higher (10 degrees warmer) than that of egg to avoid microbial passage into the eggs.The temperature of wash water should be somewhere between 32oC. Further, the warm water would help in swelling of shell, consequently, that would push out the dirt from the pores. The contact time between water and egg should also be as minimal as possible which can be done by following any of three ways of washing viz. spraying, dipping or pouring. If the number of eggs is less, a soft brush may also be used for their cleaning under running hot water in the basin followed by quick dipping in water containing sanitizer (200ppm of chlorine). The process should be as quick as possible to avoid microbial passage. The sanitizing solution must be changed at frequent intervals for effective sanitation.

4.            Drying and storage of eggs

Drying of eggs after cleaning is an important step to avoid fungal growth. Eggs are usually left to air dry in the plastic trays or are wiped dry with a soft, clean cloth. After drying, eggs must be kept at optimum temperature (45oF) and humidity (70-75%) after packing with clean and odourless materials. The place used for storage must not contain any tainted products. Under optimum storage conditions, clean eggs can be kept for three months, however, only for 5 weeks in a standard refrigerator as the humidity is generally less than optimum humidity i.e., 40-50%.Temperature and humidity play an important role in the maintenance of egg quality; thus, the storage room should be well-insulated and well-ventilated at the same time. Air circulation in the storage room is essential to maintain humidity levels. When oiled eggs are stored, the role of humidity percent may be overlooked up to a certain extent. The relative humidity should be between 80 and 85% at a cold storage temperature of - 1° C. At cold storage temperatures of about 10°C the relative humidity should be between 75 and 80 %. By following standard practices and optimum storage conditions, eggs weight loss generally doesn’t increase 0.5% per month. Eggs shall be stored with a broader end upside.

5.            Handling measures during transportation and marketing

Before transporting the stored eggs for market distribution, they must be kept in a holding room for enough time as sweating occurs when the egg is removed from a cool room to normal room temperature to avoid bacterial contamination. The egg temperature shall be increased at a very gradual pace by slowly increasing the temperature. Marketing practices are as follows:

•             Frequent marketing at least twice per week or more is essential to shorten the time between production and final consumption.

•             Before marketing proper grading and packaging is necessary.

•             For the export market, 360 eggs are packed in bulk containers (12 × 30). Rapid movement of eggs in the market channel can be made by the following ways—

ü             Rapid and efficient handling in grading stations with adequate refrigeration facilities.

ü             Speedy transport through the insulated or refrigerated track to the retail or wholesale market.

ü             Frequent delivery to retailers at least twice per week or possibly 3–5 times per week can be recommended.

6.            Conclusions

It is important to opt standard package of practices while handling shell eggs to maintain their quality and to avoid economic losses owing to breakage.

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