Public health research finds the cracks in Townsville egg storage

18 October 2021

Whether they are sunny side up' scrambled or in an omelette' most people don't give much thought to their eggs other than how they prefer their cafe staple to be prepared but new CQUniversity research has looked at food handling and safety regarding raw eggs in the food industry.

Bachelor of Public Health (Environmental Health) student Ryan Murray undertook the Townsville based study after a North Queensland café experienced a local food-related illness outbreak involving egg storage.

"The health team I was working with at the time were interested to understand the potential or likelihood of other similar food illness outbreaks involving eggs at restaurants' cafes and food businesses'" Mr Murray explained.

"The bulk production and storage of raw value-added egg product (RVAEP)' such as raw egg prepared with additional ingredients for enhancement' is very common in food businesses to produce egg-based dishes like omelettes and scrambled eggs.

"Due to North Queensland's hot climatic temperatures' storing and maintaining raw egg product at correct temperatures is a challenge but it is critical in preventing and reducing harmful levels of Salmonella growth which may lead to food illness outbreaks."

Mr Murray received data from 14 Townsville food businesses that prepared and served scrambled egg and omelette meals. Similarities in findings indicated the potential for future outbreaks' as well as highlighted any deficiencies in food industry guidelines and procedures.

The study compared storage procedures' container types and additives used between businesses' including holding and storage times for the raw egg product.

"Businesses held the RVAEP for longer periods post service' compared to storing product in advance to service. Most respondents indicated RVAEP was not held longer than 24 hours' however' there were occasions where businesses stored the product longer than the recommended 24 hours period according to industry guidelines and standards.

"Both cream and milk were listed as the leading value-added ingredients to the RVAEP dishes so the project briefly discussed the potential for nutrient-rich cream containing high pH levels as a possible influencing factor for increased microbial growth'" he said.

"Results also identified some risks and challenges with producing large batches of RVAEP including insufficient cooling due to large batch volumes and container types which may contribute to the potential for Salmonella growth and foodborne illness outbreaks.

"The survey revealed some container types such as reused and or single-use plastic containers were in use at some businesses. These containers were deemed unsuitable by industry standards. This was primarily due to the challenges encountered with sufficient cleaning and sanitising them in-line with industry standards to prevent harmful microbial growth and the presence of Salmonella on surfaces."

While his initial project has been completed' Mr Murray hopes to continue to pursue his passions for environmental and public health with the possibility of continuing his research in the future.

"I am currently employed with the Australian Defence Force but when that formerly concludes I will be looking to commence my new career with a local government as a Graduate Environmental Health Officer'" he said.

"My research was for the benefit of local and state health agencies to gauge current methods and standards for specifically handling and storing of raw egg product within the government area.

"I believe the results could be further quantified with more research into food hygiene and handling' along with the collection of raw egg product and refrigeration temperature data' which unfortunately was beyond the scope of this report."