Scientific Opinion on the public health risks of table eggs due to deterioration and development of pathogens
Salmonella Enteritidis is considered the only pathogen currently posing a major risk of egg-borne diseases in the European Union (EU). The possible impact of extending the shelf-life of eggs on the risk to consumers posed by S. Enteritidis was estimated by applying a quantitative model and comparing the actual situation regarding the storage of eggs in the EU with different possible scenarios combined, considering the prolongation of the best-before and the sell-by date from 7 to a maximum of 70 days. Extending the sell-by date by one week (from 21 to 28 days), but leaving the best-before date unchanged, is estimated to result in a relative risk of illness of 1.4 and 1.5 for uncooked and lightly cooked egg meals respectively, compared to the current situation. If the best-before date is also extended by one week (from 28 to 35 days), the relative risk would be 1.6 and 1.7. In the worst case scenario considered (sell-by date of 42 days, best before date of 70 days), such figures would be 2.9 and 3.5. It should be noted that the absolute risk is greater for uncooked meals compared to lightly cooked meals. An effective way to minimise any increase in risk during extended storage is to keep the eggs refrigerated both at retail and the household. Regarding egg spoilage, such events strongly depend on the hygienic conditions of egg production and practices of egg handling, including storage times and temperatures. Finally, the impact of the prolongation of storage time on the quality criteria for eggs (3-hydroxybutyric acid and lactic acid) destined for manufacturing of egg products is considered negligible.