UH Expert Q&A: Food Safety Expert Jay Neal Adds Insight to Egg Recall

Prof. Jay Neal is a food safety expert in UH's Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management.
Jay Neal, Ph.D., is an assistant professor at the Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management at the University of Houston. Prof. Neal teaches courses on food safety, sanitation and security and received his Ph.D. in food science and technology. His research interests include food service systems, food safety training, post-harvest treatments of food products and sensory evaluation.

We recently talked with Prof. Neal about the nationwide egg recall, precautions for consumers and the controversy regarding Salmonella vaccination.

Q: Federal and state agencies are tracking reported cases of Salmonella, which has been linked to the current egg recall. What can you tell us about the current situation?

Neal: Right now we have one of the largest outbreaks and recalls associated with fresh eggs. Salmonella is very common in chickens, the chickens can then pass the Salmonella on to their eggs. If we eat the eggs that are not cooked properly, or if they are partially cooked - like sunny side up, Caesar dressings, meringues and pies - then we can get sick. Symptoms of Salmonella are usually vomiting, diarrhea, you are uncomfortable and you may need hospitalization. For our family members that are immune-compromised - the elderly, the very young - hospitalization can occur and in some cases death. Salmonella is so common. It just seems tragic people would die from their breakfast. Right now the government is conducting testing at the two farms.

Q: What's being done to address the outbreak, and what safety precautions should people take in the meantime?

Neal: All of the recalled eggs are being destroyed. If you are handling eggs you need to wash you hands, the bowls and the countertops. Spray all of that down and wash it thoroughly. Don't use those dishes or utensils for something else after they've come in contact with raw egg, you risk cross contamination. Cook eggs well-done. If you are used to eating eggs over-easy or over-medium, cook them over-well done and you will be fine.

Q: Can you explain the controversy about the vaccine being used on hens in Great Britain and why it's not being used here?

It is a new vaccine that Great Britain has vaccinated its hens with. It has eliminated a lot of the Salmonella there, but the U.S. feels that the data is inconclusive. The cost associated with the vaccine would have raised the price of a dozen eggs only a penny. There is a little bit of controversy - should we have opted to go that route? I kind of lean in the direction of vaccination.

Q: What is happening with the eggs that are still being produced at the farm in question? Should people continue to worry?

Neal: The chickens at those farms are still producing eggs, those eggs are being shelled and used in ingredients. They will be pasteurized, cooked and so there is no risk to the consumer then.

For a little bit longer we should continue to be aware. If you are immune-compromised or if you have recently had surgery, you may want to avoid eggs a little longer. Healthy adults, we're fine. Just remember to keep eggs refrigerated, handle them properly in the kitchen and don't be afraid of them. I had two eggs for breakfast this morning.