More people are paying the extra money to eat organic and free-range eggs instead of conventionally raised ones due to concerns about health – and the impact antibiotics given to factory hens might have. Some people also believe that eating organic eggs reduces their risk of getting salmonella food poisoning. If you eat organic eggs is your salmonella risk really lower?
Organic Eggs vs. Non-Organic Eggs and Salmonella Risk
All eggs can potentially harbor Salmonella. Organic eggs are no exception, although it’s true that organic eggs are less likely to contain Salmonella than conventionally raised ones. Salmonella risk is higher in factory farmed hens because the birds are kept in close, confined quarters where they have little space to move around. Conditions are overcrowded, which increases the risk of bacteria being transmitted from bird to bird and entering the egg supply. When hens are kept in clean, less crowded quarters, Salmonella risk drops substantially.
One study in Great Britain showed that hens raised in large industrial chicken farms, and confined to crowded cages, were more likely to harbor the Salmonella bacteria than birds raised free-range or organically. The higher Salmonella risk in conventionally raised hens and eggs can be blamed on the overcrowded conditions which allow bacteria to more easily spread from bird to bird.
Organic Eggs and Salmonella Risk
Organic eggs are less likely to harbor the Salmonella bacteria, but there’s no guarantee – which is why it’s important to cook all eggs thoroughly before eating them. An egg needs to be heated to a temperature of at least 160 degrees Farenheit to kill Salmonella. Frying an egg may not take it to a high enough temperature to destroy bacteria, so it’s not the safest way to prepare eggs. This is particularly true of the “sunny side up” style of egg where the yolk is still partially raw. The chances of any one egg being infected are low, but Salmonella food poisoning can be serious, so it’s best not to take any chances.
Organic Eggs vs. Non-Organic Eggs and Salmonella Risk: The Bottom Line?
If you’re concerned about the conditions egg producing hens are raised in, buy organic eggs – but don’t assume they’re free of Salmonella. Practice good egg handling practices and cook all eggs thoroughly before serving them.
Report of the Survey of Salmonella Contamination of UK Produced Shell Eggs. PDF file.