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Image: JoNel Aleccia
By JoNel Aleccia Health writer
msnbc.com
updated 8/25/2010 3:36:57 PM ET 2010-08-25T19:36:57

Eggs from the two Iowa farms at the heart of a salmonella scare could still make it into your shopping basket — but not in the way you'd think.

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The producers responsible for a recall of some 550 million potentially tainted eggs have found another outlet for the inventory that just keeps coming: They’ll turn them into liquid eggs used in everything from cookies and cakes to egg substitutes and pet food.

Patricia El-Hinnawy, a spokeswoman for the federal Food and Drug Administration, confirmed Wednesday that Wright County Eggs and Hillandale Farms will send ongoing supplies of eggs from laying hens to so-called "breaking plants" to be processed and sold.

FDA and animal science experts say the eggs will be pasteurized, a process that indisputably kills the salmonella bacteria responsible for infections that have sickened at least 1,300 people.

"We can be confident that the pasteurized eggs are safe," said Dr. Theresia Lavergne, an associate professor of animal sciences at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.

And officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture say that lots of the eggs suspected in the outbreak will be segregated from other eggs and subjected to a new, second inspection to ensure that no salmonella remains.

Public perception
Still, experts concede that the move to send previously tainted eggs into the market might not sit well with a public worried about food poisoning.

"There's a possibility that consumers could overreact and consider them not safe when they really are," said Patricia Y. Hester, a professor of animal sciences at Purdue University. "There could be a public perception problem. There usually is."

At least one mother of young kids said she's appalled that the companies responsible for a massive recall can resell the eggs and put them back into the food supply.

"That's atrocious. It bothers me on a philosophical level," said Ilina Ewen, 41, of Raleigh, N.C., a blogger with Foodie Mama and mother of Carter, 7, and Neal, 5. "To me, even if the scientists say it's fine, it makes me not trust it. Scientists once said nicotine was fine, too."

Chickens from the affected farms are still laying millions of eggs a day. Nationwide, egg producers typically use about 70 percent of eggs for in-shell use, while about 30 percent go to breaking facilities for pasteurization and processing.

There are 57 egg breaking plants located in 23 states, according to the USDA. The three states with the most plants include Iowa, 16, Nebraska, 5, and Indiana, 4.

Eggs from those plants are used in a wide range of foods, said Daniel Sumner, director of the Agricultural Issues Center at the University of California at Davis. Commercial bakeries are big users, for instance.

Federal officials don't know which firms are likely to buy the eggs processed from chickens at Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms, said USDA spokesman Caleb Weaver. Trace-back investigations are conducted only when there's a problem with food, and it's very rare for pasteurized eggs to pose problems, he said.

Still, he said that a special inspection process has been implemented for eggs from the farms in question. Employees from the two Iowa companies will test batches of the eggs after pasteurization and then report the results to USDA inspectors.

"It's an extra check to make sure it's going exactly as planned," Weaver said.

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Video: Tainted eggs being reused in food products

  1. Transcript of: Tainted eggs being reused in food products

    CARL QUINTANILLA, co-host: Now to that latest on the massive egg recall, and some news that might surprise you. Many of the eggs tied to the farms involved in that nationwide salmonella outbreak could still end up in your kitchen in products like ice cream and mayonnaise. Is there really cause for concern? Dr. Nancy Synderman is NBC 's chief medical editor. Nancy , good morning to you.

    Dr. NANCY SNYDERMAN reporting: Hi, Carl.

    QUINTANILLA: We were told to throw away the eggs that were recalled.

    SNYDERMAN: Right. Right.

    QUINTANILLA: And now we're told that these things are going to show up in products we already buy. How are we supposed to feel about that?

    SNYDERMAN: So I think you have to remember that the things we're supposed to throw away are the tainted eggs, and there's a line in the sand , that stuff is gone. The eggs and the farms that were producing the bad eggs are still making eggs. And what the government is now saying is we will take those to places called breaking plants or cracking plants, where they really -- literally crack open the egg and just use the insides. The insides are then pasteurized and that scientifically we know equivocally, no argument...

    QUINTANILLA: That's foolproof.

    SNYDERMAN: ...will kill salmonella. And then the inside stuff becomes product like cakes, cookies, ice creams, etc.

    QUINTANILLA: Right. Should people be alarmed? Because we're not going to know which products have it. It's probably already in the food supply .

    SNYDERMAN: No. Look , so the most important thing is not to be alarmed.

    QUINTANILLA: Right.

    SNYDERMAN: Once you pasteurize something it is safe. If you had purchased pasteurized eggs -- but that's only 1 percent of eggs that in your grocery store -- you're going to be OK. It's the unpasteurized stuff. So while I understand that people are very skeptical of the FDA , maybe untrusting of the US government , and saying you've got to be kidding me, the reality is the inside of the eggs, if they are completely cooked or pasteurized, are safe.

    QUINTANILLA: If you've probably bought the recalled eggs...

    SNYDERMAN: Mm-hmm.

    QUINTANILLA: ...can you cook them and will the salmonella then go away?

    SNYDERMAN: You are probably going to be safe. But to be prudent, because this has been a recall, you're best to throw away the eggs that have been recalled. Here's the problem. The FDA just doesn't have a lot of chops. If you're a bad egg producer, I can come to you as the FDA and say, ' Carl , would you please be a good corporate citizen and get rid of the bad eggs .' But I can't mandate you to do it. And that's what's really irritating people. It's almost like we need a reorganization of food such that there's a food czar, a new food bureau, something that combines the USDA and the FDA and puts them together and says 'look, we're going to protect the US Food supply.'

    QUINTANILLA: Right.

    SNYDERMAN: Spinach, this, hamburger, peanut butter. At some point, the American public is going to say, 'what -- we don't trust anybody.' And too, in a country with the resources that we have, we can't get food from the farm fields to the tables? That is an egregious, egregious move. And frankly, why should Americans trust that our food supply is OK? The stuff that they're going to do to fix these bad eggs , yes, we'll be OK. But I think it raises a much bigger problem than we have to address.

    QUINTANILLA: A lot of cross currents and regulation in this country.

    SNYDERMAN: Well, dopey stuff. Congress has to step up to the plate. This is on their -- they can do this. But Congress is going to have to frankly, get some chops too and do it.

    QUINTANILLA: I like that you feel strongly about this.

    SNYDERMAN: Well, it's just ridiculous. I mean, why shouldn't you trust the food that's on your table?

    QUINTANILLA: Right.

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