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.
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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