WALKING ON EGG SHELLS

My mother taught me a neat trick when I was little: how to make a tiny hole on the top of an eggshell, slide a straw in and suck the contents up, raw and delicious. Most of you will think it disgusting and there is a certain amount of “yuck” in having an egg white slosh around your mouth but, once you get to the yolk, that inimitable egg taste is at its purest and strongest – if you like eggs that is. But that subtle flavor that gives custards, ice creams and countless other creations their body and profile is at the forefront in all its glory when eaten raw.

These days, eating raw or undercooked eggs is a potential health hazard. I haven’t given up my wobbly and runny poached eggs, I would rather face salmonella head on that renouncing my Sunday ritual but a massive egg recall all over the country gives us reasons enough to pause and ponder. First of all, how do eggs get salmonella bacteria when they are seemingly protected by a strong shell?

According to a paper published by the FDA, for the longest time it was believed that salmonella found its way into slightly cracked eggs that were not properly cleaned and contaminated with feces. This led to more stringent laws as to how plants had to clean and sanitize eggs. But a few years ago, when more money was poured into research as salmonellosis cases started to spike, it was found that the bacteria lived in the egg yolk, disproving the cracked shell theory. It’s highly probable that the hen infects the egg even before the shell is formed, through its ovaries. This can happen if chickens are kept in unsanitary conditions or come in contact with rat droppings, most likely found in their feed.  Either way, even if you have a strong stomach and your body will fight the bacteria as a matter of course (not everybody who eats tainted food gets sick), the best way to kill it is to cook the hell out of it.

The second point that this egg recall brought home is that, every time you stand in front of the cold case at the market deciding whether to buy brown or white eggs, fortified with omega and whatever else, all those packages you are considering mean nothing – the charming box with happy chickens and the Lucerne brand, the more severe Ralph’s carton, the plain one of Trafficanda Farms are absolutely fictitious. All those eggs, and countless more, come from the same place, in this particular recall case, a couple of plants in Iowa, one of which already known to authorities for sub par sanitary conditions. Hundreds of millions of eggs were recalled – hundreds of millions!

On our evening walks, Ottie often stops in front of one of our neighbours’ yards, where the chicken coop is highly visible. He stares at the pecking chickens and I know he has a unsuppressed desire to run in, chase them around and wring their necks – as peace-loving a dog as he is, he has this thing for birds.  Maybe he was a fox in a previous incarnation. I try to hurry along, not to give him time to plot a strategy that will eventually work. Rather, I should become more friendly with my neighbor and suggest a barter – fresh eggs in exchange for their chickens’ safety.

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