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Food Quality and Safety in Europe



A European Food Safety Authority study compiled in 2006 found that on average about one in five large scale commercial egg producers have laying hens infected with Salmonella. It is therefore not surprising that recent EU legislation requires even stricter control measures for egg producers to avoid contamination. Furthermore, housing in conventional battery cages will be prohibited from 2012. However, at the moment there is only limited information on the proportion of eggs contaminated in relation to the methods of production. SAFEHOUSE aims to provide this information in order to clarify future developments on the subject of egg contamination.


The risk of getting an illness from eggs is very low. However, the nutrients that make eggs a high-quality food for humans are also a good growth medium for bacteria. In addition to food, bacteria also need moisture, a favourable temperature, and time in order to multiply, thus increasing the risk of illness. In the rare event that an egg contains bacteria, the risk can be reduced by proper chilling and eliminated by proper cooking. When handled with care, eggs pose no greater food-safety risk than any other perishable food.

The inside of an egg was once considered almost sterile. But over recent years, the bacterium Salmonella Enteritis has been found inside a small number of eggs. Scientists estimate that, on average, only one in every 20 000 eggs might contain the bacteria. So, the likelihood that an egg might contain Salmonella is extremely small - 0.005 per cent. At this rate, an average consumer might encounter a contaminated egg once every 84 years.


The SAFEHOUSE project will collect and analyse quantitative data to evaluate the effect of housing systems on egg contamination in the field, by studying different flocks. The expected result is the ability to predict the potential risk to the consumer of the move to better laying-hen housing systems. These risk/analysis studies will focus on Salmonella, but will also cover other potential zoonotic agents, antibiotic resistance gene transmission and residues.

The consortium aims at converting the knowledge generated in this project into practical applications that can be used by the European poultry industry. The project will also make European research groups more competitive. In fact, no single partner could individually achieve the objectives of this project. Bringing together the fragmented knowledge of every partner will lead to a consortium that is perfectly prepared to carry out a multidisciplinary project like SAFEHOUSE. Furthermore, in the framework of international competition, the European egg industry is focused on producing a product of exceptional quality, and this directly implies pathogen-free chicken eggs.

One of the longstanding questions to perplex humanity is whether the chicken came before the egg or viceversa. Samuel Butler, the 19th century British novelist had this to say on the topic: "The hen is an egg's way of producing another egg." SAFEHOUSE is Europe's way of ensuring that one of our staple foods remains safer than ever.

List of Partners

  • Ghent University (Belgium)
  • Danish Institute for Food and Veterinary Science (Denmark)
  • University of Bristol (UK)
  • University of Veterinary Medicine (Germany)
  • Danish Institute of Agricultural Sciences (Denmark)
  • Veterinary Research Institute (Czech Republic)
  • Institute of Food Research (UK)
  • Swiss Federal Veterinary Office (Switzerland)
  • Big Dutchman (Germany)
  • Anaximandre (France)
Full title:
Analysis and control of egg contamination by Salmonella and other zoonotic pathogens after the move of laying hens to enriched cages and alternative housing systems
Contract n:
Project co-ordinator:
Filip van Immerseel, Ghent University,
EC Scientific Officer:
Jean-Charles Cavitte,
EU contribution:
€ 2.6M
Specific Targeted Research Project

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Last update: 06 December 2007 | Top