Norwegian officials have written to the European Commission to express their concerns about potential changes to rules around the shelf life of eggs.

Ingvild Kjerkol, Minister of Health and Care Services, and Sandra Borch, Minister of Agriculture and Food in Norway, sent a letter to Stella Kyriakides, EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety.

Norway is part of the European Economic Area (EEA) but is not an EU member state. The draft from the EU Commission would move a provision on the expiry date for table eggs to hygiene regulations, which are part of the EEA agreement.

The EU proposal is that the expiry date for hen eggs can be a maximum of 28 days after laying. However, in Norway and other Nordic countries, there is a very low incidence of Salmonella in eggs, so Norwegian eggs can have a shelf life of more than 28 days.

Risk-based approach

A consultation has taken place in Europe, and if the EU goes ahead with the plan, regulations will be adopted in the last quarter of 2022.

“In principle, our view is that table eggs should be marketed and labelled under equal food safety and date marking requirements as other foods in line with the provisions of the General Food Law, the Food Hygiene regulations and the Regulation on Food Information to Consumers. We do not see any reason to maintain the specific numeric date provisions for table eggs, as the only food in the internal market,” said the ministers.

They also recommended risk-based flexibility taking into account the animal health and food safety situation in member states. This could mean authorities in countries that have a low prevalence of Salmonella in flocks of laying hens would be able to set rules to be exempt from the 28 day limit.

“In Norway, such flexibility will contribute to preserve our decentralized structure in the primary production of eggs, ease the logistics, reduce the transport and avoid food waste, without posing any increase in public health risk or reduction in the quality of table eggs,” said Kjerkol and Borch.  

Many groups commented on the proposals including the Norwegian Farmers Union, a number of retailers, the Grocery Suppliers of Norway and FoodDrinkNorway.

Egg industry in Norway

Norway has a national requirement for a cold chain for eggs. They should be kept at no more than 12 degrees C (53.6 degrees F) from the time of laying until they reach the public. Consumers also keep eggs refrigerated.

These factors mean Norwegian eggs are fit for consumption for longer than 28 days. Studies have shown that table eggs are ok to eat several months after laying, according to the Norwegian Independent Meat and Poultry Association.

Norway produces more than 60,000 tons of eggs per year, has an agricultural structure with more than 500 farms and a maximum of 7,500 hens per farm. Eggs are normally collected once a week, meaning they will have lost seven days of shelf life when they reach the packing facility, if the EU plans go ahead. Increasing the flexibility for the sell-by date would help to keep the structure of small flocks spread throughout the country.

Collecting eggs several times a week, as they do in several other European countries, means higher costs and increased transport times, said the Norwegian Independent Meat and Poultry Association.

The Swedish Food Federation (Livsmedelsföretagen) also commented on the proposals, saying it believes businesses should be given responsibility of setting the shelf-life of eggs in the same way as for any other food.

Swedish eggs are also mainly safe to consume beyond 28 days due to the negligible prevalence of Salmonella and the fact that people generally store them in the fridge.

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