One in four Australian adults are taking a food safety risk by eating raw or undercooked egg dishes, according to a health charity.

The Food Safety Information Council released Omnipoll research, funded by Australian Pasteurized Eggs. The study also found as many as 12 percent of adults are even more at risk because they eat raw or undercooked egg dishes at least once a month. This number has doubled in the past three years.

Raw and undercooked egg dishes can pose a risk of Salmonella and 235 people fell sick in a Salmonella Enteritidis outbreak from May 2018 to May 2019 in New South Wales Victoria, Queensland, Tasmania and South Australia. The outbreak strain was detected on chicken layer farms in NSW, and one farm in Victoria and resulted in multiple product recalls.

Australian Food Safety Week runs from Nov. 9 to 16 and the theme is: Excellent eggs – handle them safely.

The group also called on retailers to make pasteurized shell eggs and egg pulp products more available to consumers. They are currently sold to food businesses, aged care and hospitals.

Increasing trend for raw and undercooked eggs
Cathy Moir, council chair, said eggs are a nutritious part of people’s diets but the public needs to be sure they are safe.

“Salmonella infection is a common type of food poisoning in Australia and eggs can be contaminated by Salmonella on the outside of the eggshell as they are laid or sometime later. In rare cases, Salmonella can enter eggs when they are being formed in the chicken. Cooking is an effective way to kill all types of Salmonella, however, lots of people like undercooked and raw eggs and egg dishes and this trend is increasing,” she said.

“Examples of popular risky uncooked egg dishes include uncooked desserts like mousses and tiramisu; sauces and dressings such as hollandaise, fresh mayonnaise, and aioli; drinks containing raw egg such as egg nog, health shakes with added raw egg; and steak tartare.”

Moir said some people are more at risk from food poisoning than others.

“Dishes containing raw eggs as an ingredient, that aren’t going to be cooked before being eaten, should not be served to vulnerable people. These include babies, toddlers, and young children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems,” she said.

“Be cautious when cooking for these vulnerable people. For example, cook a boiled, fried or poached egg until the yolk and white have started to become firm or, when making omelets or scrambled eggs, until they have become set. When you want to prepare egg dishes that aren’t fully cooked you can protect vulnerable people and other consumers using pasteurized eggs rather than raw eggs as an alternative.”

Last month, the Food Safety Information Council released research that found nearly 40 percent of people didn’t always wash their hands before touching food.

Lydia Buchtmann, the council’s communication director, said good handwashing, using running water, soap and drying hands thoroughly is a basic public health message that people seem to be forgetting.

“A fifth of Australians say they don’t always wash their hands after going to the toilet and more than a third admit they don’t always wash before touching food. This behavior could be contributing to the estimated 4.1 million cases of food poisoning each year not to mention spreading viral infections such as cold, influenza and norovirus,” she said.

Men were less likely than women to always wash hands before touching food and young people were less likely than older age groups to take this action.

Poor handwashing knowledge among young people is a concern as they often become professional food handlers, said Buchtmann.

Correct handwashing involves wetting hands and rubbing together with soap for at least 20 seconds and drying thoroughly on a clean towel for the same amount of time.

Food safety at home
Meanwhile, a food safety advertising campaign is being piloted in a Western Australian city to reduce domestic cases of food poisoning.

The Play it Food Safe campaign calls on people to enjoy meals prepared in their kitchens but be aware the majority of food poisoning cases occur in the home. It wants people to clean, separate, cook and chill when they prepare, handle and store food.

Busselton was chosen as the South West region had one of the highest rates of Campylobacter-related food poisoning cases in Western Australia during 2018.

Western Australia has one of the highest rates of food poisoning among OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries, with Salmonella cases almost doubling between 2014 and 2017. The most common causes of foodborne illness in the state are Salmonella and Campylobacter.

The campaign is a reminder for the community about preventing foodborne illness ahead of the warmer summer months.

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