Think of it this way: There is a bathtub and it’s always filled with two inches of water. One day, however, there suddenly are four inches of water in the bathtub. That example was used in 2010 by one of the experts at the Food and Drug Administration or the Centers for Disease Control to explain to this thick skull how they knew there was a huge outbreak of Salmonella Enteritidis (SE) occurring in the country, sickening thousands. That outbreak, meaning the difference between two and four inches in our imaginary bathtub, was traced back to two giant Iowa egg farms owned by Austin “Jack” DeCoster’s Quality Egg LLC and run by its chief operating officer, his son Peter DeCoster. The two QE farms would end up recalling more than half-a-billion shell eggs. eggsovereasy_406x250By allowing those adulterated eggs reach the market, Jack and Peter DeCoster were, for a time, responsible for doubling the incidence of SE in the country. Salmonella-contaminated eggs do reach the market every day, and if you are one who likes your eggs over easy or soft-boiled, you risk becoming sick and becoming part of that first two inches of background SE. Now, especially if you do like over-easy and barely boiled eggs, the best thing you can do is to buy pasteurized eggs for use in your home kitchen and seek out restaurants that only serve pasteurized eggs. Be careful to make sure that all eggs they use in menu items such as Caesar salad are pasteurized. Among the 231 million cases, or 83 billion individual eggs, produced in the U.S. last year, two-thirds went to retailers and restaurants. About 30 percent went to manufacturers for further processing, and the rest were exported. Egg-associated salmonellosis remains a public health problem. The SE bacterium can be inside perfectly normal-appearing eggs, and if the eggs are eaten raw or undercooked, the bacterium can cause illness. Those SE illnesses come with abdominal cramps, along with fever and diarrhea, within 12 to 72 hours after exposure via the contaminated food. SE illness usually last four to seven days and most people recover without antibiotic treatment, but the diarrhea can linger. Estimates show that one egg in 50 might be a danger to human health. That may not sound like much until it’s translated into something like 830,000 contaminated eggs reaching the market every year. We can hope these are among the eggs that are hard-boiled or pasteurized, or that we are making progress with the improved egg safety rules. Jack and Peter DeCoster pleaded guilty over the half-a-billion shell eggs they allowed to enter the market because some were contaminated. They and Quality Egg LLC paid $7 million in fines. They’ve withdrawn from the egg industry, and each might still have to go to jail for three months. But their incident involved only enough eggs to keep McDonald’s going for three months. Who among the retailers and restaurants that buy two-thirds of those 83 million eggs has stepped forward as a leader in egg safety? I’ve come to the sad conclusion that food safety is not really something the corporate marketing guys want the CEO talking about. Another example of that came this past week when Fortune magazine did a long, long article on the McDonald’s CEO deciding to make egg purchases only from “cage-free” egg producers at some point in the future, with nary a mention about egg safety. And writer Beth Kowitt reports that science was not the “deciding factor,” but “consumer sentiment.” We cannot even say if housing types are an important factor from an egg safety perspective. It’s been troubling to see Salmonella outbreaks involving some of these fancy backyard henhouses, often to the dismay of their well-intentioned, but reality-challenged, owners. We do think it’s time for USDA and FDA to move from the sidelines to the center of the housing debate with scientifically drawn criteria. The cost — estimated by Fortune at $7 billion — of building “cage-free” hen housing should also be weighed against egg safety improvements, including more pasteurization capacity. And CEOs who do not put egg safety first should be prepared to trade places with Jack and Peter DeCoster.. (To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)