New Food Safety Technology Developed for Eggs

US - Good news for fans of raw cookie dough: Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists have filed a patent on technology that can protect pasteurized liquid eggs from food safety threats.
calendar icon 13 May 2009
clock icon 3 minute read

ARS scientists have worked out a new way to pasteurize fresh eggs, making them less likely to carry pathogens. [Photo courtesy of Microsoft clipart]

These threats include both naturally-occurring spoilage bacteria and pathogens. But don't go running for that dough just yet; the US Food and Drug Administration still cautions against consuming raw, unpasteurized eggs or products that contain them.

The new technology was developed by Sudarsan Mukhopadhyay, Peggy Tomasula and John Luchansky, researchers at the ARS Eastern Regional Research Center (ERRC) in Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania.

Current pasteurization technology removes heat-sensitive pathogens, but some heat-resistant spoilage microorganisms can survive. Consumers can avoid illness by properly preparing and cooking eggs before consumption, but the researchers have found that new technology can compensate for the shortcomings of thermal pasteurization.

The technology, called "crossflow microfiltration membrane separation" (CMF), removes more pathogens than thermal pasteurization. And it does so without affecting the eggs' ability to foam, coagulate and emulsify, meaning that CMF-treated eggs could be safely substituted for pasteurized eggs in angel food cake and other products where those characteristics are desired.

In a pilot-scale study, CMF was shown to remove about 99.9999 percent of inoculated Salmonella enteritidis from unpasteurized liquid egg whites. The technology can also be used to remove Bacillus anthracis spores from egg whites. This finding adds to previous work in which ERRC researchers used CMF to remove 99.9999 percent of B. anthracis spores inoculated into fluid milk. Microfiltration can also protect milk from more common bacterial pathogens, potentially extending its shelf life.

Although effective in its own right, CMF works best when used as an accompaniment to pasteurization, not a replacement for it. Combining the two processes significantly reduces the pathogen load.

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