For almost three decades, moms-to-be are barred from eating runny or slightly-cooked eggs in abundance of precaution against possible salmonella infection risk. A new report debunks the long-time recommendation and says that it is now safe for pregnant women.

The advice, which comes from the Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food (ACMSF), said that eggs in Britain with the "red lion" mark carry such a low risk that vulnerable groups like elderly people, toddlers and even expectant mothers, can eat them slightly cooked or raw in products such as mayonnaise.

Vulnerable groups were advised to avoid eating boiled eggs especially when these are slightly-cooked, runny or raw about 30 years ago. This is because of the salmonella crisis that has risen by 170 percent from 1981 to 1991.

In 1988, the first advice on the consumption and use of eggs for vulnerable groups was issued [PDF]. It recommends that these individuals belonging to vulnerable groups to avoid eating raw eggs or uncooked food made from them. A year after that, the agency urged expectant mothers to just eat boiled eggs with the yolk and white solid and not runny.

Measures taken by the agency includes encourage the safe use and handling of eggs in poultry farms. The surveys conducted showed no change in the prevalence of Salmonella contamination of eggs. But in 2001, the rate of Salmonella infections fell dramatically and the measures taken by the industry, including vaccination of laying chickens, were deemed effective.

Eggs containing the red British Lion stamp on their shells carry only a very low risk of Salmonella poisoning, ACMSF said. Since 1998, the British Lion scheme successfully and effectively eliminated salmonella in British eggs. This mark means that the eggs came from hens which were vaccinated against salmonella and had been produced from high quality standards in food handling.

"The safety record of the British Lion scheme means that babies, pregnant women and other vulnerable groups can now confidently eat runny eggs that bear the Lion mark," Egg Info said.

Salmonella is a form of bacteria found normally in the digestive tracts of animals and can be transferred to humans when they eat undercooked or contaminated foods. Salmonella infection or Salmonellosis is characterized by a bout of diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps between 12 hours and 72 hours after exposure.

The infection usually lasts for about four to seven days and most individuals recover without treatment. In some cases, however, the diarrhea may cause severe dehydration that requires hospitalization. 

Photo: John Loo | Flickr 

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