Saturday, February 2, 2013

Farm Food Safety

Recently, I have began selling eggs to new and diverse groups of people. Lots of people have commented that they'd like to try some eggs, but only recently have people been willing to sink $3 into the experiment. Now I have also not always had the supply to feed my family and offer extras to others, and now I do, so my supply could be a good part of the recent uptake. However, it's been recently brought to my attention that it could just as easily be people's concerns regarding the safety of non-regulated food suppliers. Although it never occurred to me before, farm husband thought it should have been obvious to me, saying he himself had similar concerns in the beginning. So I thought I'd give you just a little info about the safety of homegrown eggs and produce.

The main concern, I imagine, is salmonella. So here are some of the FDA rules for eggs in order to curb salmonella. keep in mind, these rules apply to people with greater than 3,000 birds whose shells are unpasturized. Pasteurization of an egg shell generally consists of washing it with warm water and a sanitizing chemical.

The FDA requires that eggs be held at about 45 degrees if they are going to be waiting around for transport for greater than 3 days. Additionally they are required to be shipped and available for purchase within 30 days. A day, for the record, starts the day after the egg is laid. So, if the chickens are like mine, an FDA day starts when the egg is about 18 hours old already. (Many hens lay at sunrise). Prior to shipment, eggs must be washed in warm water (and frequently a sanitizer chemical of some type) and shipped without any cracks in the shell.

What follows is a lay explanation of those rules. Please keep in mind I'm neither a doctor, nor a scientist.

An egg, normally, is an airtight item. Without any cracks or age based deterioration, the inside of your egg will never be contaminated by the outside of your egg. That's good, because eggs come out of a chickens butt. I hate to be the one to tell you if you didn't know, but essentially the same hole they poop out of is the same hole the egg passes through. it is not uncommon for an egg to have poop on it when it comes out. It is the poop and other environmental factors that cause eggs to have salmonella on their shells. Again if the egg is uncracked, that salmonella is no problem, once you crack it, it's exposed. Thus, the washing. If you wash with water over 90 degrees, the bacteria will be killed. Even more so if you wash them with a chemical.

Storage at 45 degrees keeps the bacteria from growing back, if it remains on the egg.

So why was I never concerned? If you've seen my chickens in their coop, there is plenty of poop! We toss out about ten lbs of chicken poop a week (let me know if your compost could benefit from some nitrogen btw!). It falls into a tray under their coop which has a slatted floor. However, they lay eggs into a nest box. Traditionally, a chicken doesn't poop where's it lays its eggs.the nest box is a clean area of the coop filled only with straw and eggs. This is a repeat picture but you'll see what I mean.

See through that's little door there is a slatted floor? That's where they sleep. The clean dry straw filled area is where the eggs are. See? No poop.

Now, at the risk of being accused of attempting to shock, here is a picture of factory farm chickens:

They poop and lay and live and eat and spend their whole lives in the same space. They cannot spread their wings, much less move away from their waste matter. So it makes good sense that "farms" with this many chickens should be following rules to minimize salmonella exposure. Just for fun, these are your factory "free range" chickens which produce those "free range" eggs. To be FDA free range they need only have access to the ground and fresh air.

Look how free!! Certainly better than the alternative I suppose but, my girls, who are confined to a run, have enough space to speed up and charge at one another! They also get supervised weed eating time. ;) this one was from last summer. So you'll see one of our dearly departed, Other White Chicken.

I suppose knowing how a factory chicken lives is what leads me to never worry about the safety of our eggs. I cannot imagine a scenario in which the former two pictures of chickens are cleaner, happier and healthier than the latter picture.

But just for full disclosure, unless our eggs have visible poop on them, they are not washed. At all. This is to preserve the "bloom" or naturally occurring protective coating on the egg. I recommend you wash them before cracking them, but most home farmers will keep their eggs on the counter until they use them because of this bloom. We refrigerate a dozen once we have a full doz (normally two days) and we sell the ones that have been refrigerated. Our home consumed eggs live on our counter. For the record, the front egg is speckled, not dirty.

Right next to our butter. Which is also not refrigerated. Now we don't sell butter, so this is just a fun fact: we use a butter bell. It's a little crock with a lid. The underside of the lid is a bell type shape that you store your butter in. You keep a small amount of water in the crock which creates an air tight seal around the butter. This means your butter is always soft and spreadable. Butter, like eggs, is very obvious when its gone bad. Both smell funky.

As long as you have a little device like this, and you clean it and replace the water weekly, you too can keep your butter soft and toast ready. They sell these little guys at places like William Sonoma, but we got ours at bookmans. PS if you ever find one with a chicken handle, please buy it for me, I'll pay you back!

So there you are. A quick note one egg and butter safety! Now I have to do some research to talk to you about veggie safety, but just for fun, the number one carrier of food borne disease last year was leafy greens! Not that I want you to be afraid of my salad, but rather consider where your food came from. Farm husband has said before he loves eating our salad cause he knows exactly what was on it. (Mostly dirt and water... But we compost chicken poop sooooo dirt is actually poop and rotted veggies... Albeit raised to a very high temperature in order to turn into dirt....Tee hee! Wash your salad!)

I hope it's been fun and educational.

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Location:The farm

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