Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) has said that there is no reason for whole eggs to be refrigerated in shops, following claims that retailers not doing so could increase the risk of Salmonella.
In a statement, the agency said it had examined the entire supply chain and found that there was no food safety reason to require whole eggs to be refrigerated at retail.
However, retailers may choose to refrigerate eggs for their own reasons, for example to maintain quality of the egg, such as firmness of the yolk or spoilage reduction.
The statement was in response to an article in the Sydney Morning Herald that claimed supermarkets were the "missing link" in egg-related Salmonella protection.
The article reported that retailers were not required to refrigerate eggs but some were stocking them on warm shelves even though there had been warnings that it could increase the risk of Salmonella. It said that research showed refrigeration could help prevent the risk of cases, which were on the rise.
FSANZ said it had carried out a thorough risk assessment of egg production and processing in Australia in 2011. It said that it had consulted with industry, scientists, government agencies and the public, with the help of international and domestic experts.
“We looked at the entire supply chain, including factors on-farm that increase the likelihood of Salmonella contamination, through grading, washing, packing, retail storage and consumer preparation,” the statement said.
FSANZ said that an egg's shell, membrane and the egg white created a barrier to stop food poisoning bacteria from contaminating the inside of an egg.
The agency said that whole un-cracked eggs did not need to be refrigerated at retail because the types of Salmonella that can contaminate the inside of eggs are not present in Australian laying flocks.
There were also requirements in the Food Standards Code for egg producers to control contamination of the egg surface, such as minimising the contamination of feed with Salmonella, the agency said.
It added that the temperature along the entire supply chain affected the rate at which the protective membranes within the egg degrade, and that time spent on the retail shelf was comparatively short.
“Due to the nature of egg contamination in Australia, refrigeration of eggs at retail is considered to have a small impact on the overall risk of illness,” said FSANZ.
However, problems can arise when the bacteria on the eggshell comes into contact with the inside of the egg, or the Salmonella is transferred into uncooked food from a person’s hands after handling eggs. The agency reiterated the importance of following safe food handling practices.