Norway is hoping for an exemption to European rules on shelf-life labeling of eggs, partly because of its good Salmonella record.
In December 2022, an EU regulation entered into force that extended the period eggs can be sold to the consumer to 28 days after laying by hens. However, another change moved a provision on the best-before date for table eggs to hygiene regulations, which are part of the EEA agreement. Norway is part of the European Economic Area (EEA) but is not an EU member state. As the rule didn’t previously cover Norway, the country uses an egg shelf life of 35 days after laying.
Two ministries in Norway believe the 28-day maximum shelf life rule is justified for public health reasons in many EU member states due to the occurrence of Salmonella in eggs. However, in Norway, there is a very low incidence of Salmonella in eggs.
Impact on domestic industry
Ingvild Kjerkol, Minister of Health and Care, and Sandra Borch, Minister of Agriculture and Food, previously sent a letter to Stella Kyriakides, EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety in mid-2022 expressing concerns about the potential changes.
Before the amendments were adopted, they were discussed multiple times in an expert group at the EU Commission, where the Norwegian Food Safety Authority (Mattilsynet) recorded the country’s position on several occasions, without success. The EU side sought the same regulations to support the internal market and wanted to limit national exemptions.
The ministries have now started work on requesting risk-based flexibility regarding the shelf life labeling of eggs when implementing the regulation.
“It is absolutely necessary for us to speak with the EU, because such a change in the regulations will have consequences for Norwegian egg production as we know it today, and bring challenges for the industry,” said Borch.
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 often keep eggs refrigerated. A decentralized structure of the industry means small flocks are spread throughout the country.
Eggs are normally collected once a week due to the large distances, meaning they could lose seven days of shelf life before reaching the packing facility under the EU plans. Collecting eggs several times a week, as they do in other European countries, means higher costs and increased transport times, said the Norwegian Independent Meat and Poultry Association.
Campylobacter surveillance findings
Meanwhile, Norwegian surveillance in 2022 showed that 106 flocks, or 4.8 percent, tested positive for Campylobacter. This is below 5.1 percent in 2019, 6.1 percent in 2020, and 5.8 percent in 2021 and is also low compared to most other European countries.
In total, 2,189 flocks from 515 farms were sampled in 2022. Of all farms sampled, 72 had at least one positive flock, 12 had two positive flocks, eight had three positives and two had four positive flocks.
Carcasses from positive flocks were either heat treated or frozen for a minimum of three weeks before being sold.
Campylobacteriosis is the most commonly reported bacterial infectious disease in Norway. Consumption of poultry meat has been identified as one significant risk factor. In 2022, there was an increase in campylobacteriosis acquired from abroad while the number of infections in Norway was lower than in 2020 and 2021.
The Campylobacter action plan involves Mattilsynet, which is responsible for implementing the surveillance program, while the Norwegian Veterinary Institute coordinates the program, performs laboratory investigations, analyses data, and communicates the results.
In 2022, all Norwegian broiler flocks slaughtered before 51 days of age from May to October were sampled by the owner or keeper. Sampling was performed a maximum of six days before slaughter. One sample consisted of 10 pooled swabs from fresh fecal/cecal droppings. Samples were analyzed by real-time PCR for Campylobacter.
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