Food Safety:

U.S. Needs a Consistent Farm-to-Table Approach to Egg Safety

T-RCED-99-232: Published: Jul 1, 1999. Publicly Released: Jul 1, 1999.

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Lawrence J. Dyckman
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed its work on the safety of eggs and egg products, focusing on whether: (1) prevention-based safety practices have been applied on egg farms and at processing plants; (2) implementation of a new federal policy on egg refrigeration will effectively reduce the risks associated with contaminated eggs; (3) federal and state policies and practices on serving eggs to vulnerable populations and dating egg cartons are consistent; and (4) federal egg safety resources are used efficiently and policies are coordinated effectively.

GAO noted that: (1) the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not established prevention-based procedures on egg farms or at shell egg processing plants that would reduce or eliminate Salmonella Enteritidis contamination by identifying, controlling, and monitoring known safety risks; (2) 13 states, responsible for about 38 percent of the nation's egg production, have established voluntary prevention-based programs for egg farms; (3) however, these programs do not provide a uniform level of risk reduction because they take different approaches in critical areas such as the frequency of testing for the presence of Salmonella Enteritidis; (4) the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) does not require a prevention-based approach in processing plants where eggs are broken to create egg products; (5) the first national requirement to refrigerate eggs at 45 degrees Fahrenheit or below from the time they are packed until they reach the consumer may not, for a variety of reasons, effectively reduce egg safety risks; (6) implementation and enforcement of the requirements will be split between FSIS and FDA; (7) FSIS has issued regulations, which take effect in August, requiring that eggs be refrigerated during storage and transportation; (8) however, FDA has not yet proposed regulations to require that eggs be refrigerated after they arrive at retail locations such as restaurants and grocery stores; (9) many experts believe that greater risk reduction could be achieved by controlling the internal temperature of the egg, something that the new regulations will not require; (10) inconsistent policies and practices in three other areas have weakened the nation's egg safety efforts; (11) certain groups are more likely to suffer severe health consequences from eating contaminated eggs; (12) only about half the states have followed FDA's recommendation that they require food service operators to use pasteurized eggs or egg products when serving these groups; (13) federal policies allow some eggs to be returned from grocery stores to processors to be repackaged, redated, and returned to the retail level for sale; (14) there are inconsistencies in how expiration dates are used on egg cartons; (15) the inconsistencies in repackaging and expiration dating can mislead consumers about the eggs' freshness and may pose a food safety risk; and (16) the involvement of four federal agencies enforcing a variety of laws makes it difficult to direct resources to the areas of highest safety risk and to effectively coordinate egg safety policies.

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