updated 9/20/2004 1:36:46 PM ET 2004-09-20T17:36:46

The Food and Drug Administration on Monday recommended changes aimed at reducing by one-third the salmonella infections caused each year by tainted eggs.

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The agency estimates that 118,000 people each year are sickened by eating improperly cooked eggs contaminated with salmonella. Illnesses range from mild stomach upset and arthritis to death.

By bolstering safety at farms with more than 3,000 laying hens that do not already pasteurize their eggs, the agency hopes to trim illness rates by 33,500 per year.

That expected reduction in illness rates represents “a major step” in realizing the agency’s goal of a 50 percent reduction in such infection outbreaks by 2010, FDA Acting Commissioner Dr. Lester M. Crawford said in a prepared statement.

Sweeping safety measures
The changes, if adopted, would cost an estimated 4,100 affected farms about $82 million per year. Depending on farm size, producers could pay from as little as 19 cents to as much as $1 in increased costs per laying hen. Because safer food would reduce hospitalizations, however, the measure could provide $490 million in savings, the agency estimates.

The proposed safety measures are both sweeping, such as creating biosecurity programs, and simple common sense, like ensuring eggs stored at the farm are refrigerated and pests controlled.

Farms and egg producers will now have to create biosecurity programs that limit access to poultry houses and require visitors to shower in both directions and dispose of potentially tainted outer clothing. A positive salmonella test result would prompt disinfection of the poultry house and prevent those eggs from reaching the market.

People can be infected with salmonella by eating raw or partially cooked food that’s tainted, including Roma tomatoes and cantaloupes imported from Mexico. Eggs can be contaminated inside the shell by passing through an infected laying hen’s reproductive tract.

The agency is accepting public comments on its proposed rule through Dec. 21. The public may send comments to Dockets Management Branch (FA-305); Food and Drug Administration; 5630 Fishers Lane, Room 1061; Rockville, MD 20852. Include docket numbers 1996P-0418, 1997P-0197, 1998P-0203, and 2000N-0504 and RIN Number 0910-AC14.

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