WASHINGTON — The Food and Drug Administration on April 7 issued a new guidance to industry aimed at ensuring egg producers are able to adequately meet the expanding demand for shell eggs in the table egg market. Provisions of the guidance titled “Temporary policy regarding enforcement of 21 CFR Part 118 (the Egg Safety Rule) during the COVID-19 public health emergency” take effect immediately.
“According to the egg industry, the COVID-19 pandemic has created a market imbalance,” the FDA noted. “Although there is not currently an egg shortage, there is increased consumer demand for shell eggs in the table egg market. At the same time, there is reduced demand for eggs that are further processed into egg products to be used by restaurants and similar establishments.
“The egg industry has expressed concern that, absent additional flexibility to redirect eggs to the table egg market from poultry houses currently producing eggs for further processing, producers may have difficulty meeting the increased consumer demand for eggs in the table egg market.”
To help address the increased demand for shell eggs in the table egg market, the FDA said it will provide temporary flexibility so producers who currently sell eggs only for further processing (and are, therefore, not subject to most of the requirements of the Egg Safety Rule) may sell eggs to the table egg market when certain conditions are present at individual poultry houses. The agency said it believes these conditions will address food safety concerns that could arise when poultry houses shift from producing eggs for further processing to producing eggs for the table egg market.
“FDA does not intend to object if shell eggs from a poultry house consisting solely of laying hens up to 45 weeks of age are sold to the table egg market provided the following conditions below are present.
For poultry houses providing eggs to the table egg market:
- A producer complies and has been in compliance with all requirements of the Egg Safety Rule for the poultry house for the life of the flock, including Salmonella Enteritidis (SE)-monitored pullets, biosecurity, rodent and pest control, cleaning and disinfection, environmental and egg testing, refrigeration, and recordkeeping.
- Before sending any eggs to the table egg market, a producer simultaneously conducts environmental and egg testing (as described in 21 CFR 118.7 and 118.8) for the poultry house. Environmental testing would still occur when the laying hens are 40 to 45 weeks of age and subsequently if molting is induced.
- No environmental tests or egg tests are positive for SE in the poultry house.
- A producer processes eggs from the poultry house separately from eggs on the farm that are not going to the table egg market.
- A producer implements and maintains a written plan (e.g., use of dedicated equipment, change of personnel protective equipment between houses) to prevent cross-contamination between poultry houses whose eggs are going to the table egg market and any other poultry houses on the farm.
For poultry houses not providing eggs to the table egg market:
- Before sending any eggs to the table egg market, a producer complies with all requirements of the Egg Safety Rule for poultry houses that are not sending eggs to the table egg market (e.g., biosecurity, rodent and pest control, cleaning and disinfection, refrigeration, and recordkeeping), except for testing and SE- monitored pullets.
The FDA said the policy does not apply to poultry houses with laying hens over 45 weeks of age at the time the guidance was issued. Egg producers whose poultry houses have laying hens over 45 weeks of age that have been sending the eggs for further processing may continue to do so.