Why I’m Not Afraid of Salmonella

If the recent outbreak of salmonella in U.S. supermarket eggs is any indication, food borne pathogens are not going away. In fact, they are increasing in number at an alarming rate. Yet I’m not afraid of contracting salmonella from my eggs. In fact, I eat them raw.

Am I stupid? Do I have a death wish? Nah. I just know my farmer.

You see, the “family farm” where these contaminated eggs originated is huge. According to the New York Times,

The DeCosters produce 2.3 million dozen eggs a week (!) in Iowa. Over the years, many here have objected to the growing operations of Austin J. DeCoster. Neighbors sued the DeCosters’ farms for what they said were noxious gases, millions of gallons of uncovered manure and putrid animal carcasses left on roadways. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources declared Mr. DeCoster a “habitual violator,” making his the only operation ever to be deemed such in Iowa, for its handling of hog waste.

[emphasis mine]

It’s only common sense that chickens raised in such massive operations will produce and spread pathogens like salmonella. Of course contaminated fecal matter will spread more readily among 100,000 confined birds jammed into tiny cages (or even so-called “cage-free”, yet crowded spaces) than it will among birds roaming freely on pasture. Of course hens living in close contact with out-of-control rodent populations (which carry salmonella) will be more diseased than chickens living outside. Of course de-beaked and force-molted chickens will be more prone to disease than those that peck, build nests, exhibit their natural chicken-y behavior, and get regular exposure to sunlight (aka: Nature’s disinfectant).

This editorial from the New York Times summarizes the scope of the DeCoster operation this way:

It wasn’t simply that the operation is out of scale with the Iowa landscape. It is out of scale with any landscape, except perhaps the industrial districts of Los Angeles County. What shocked me most was the thought that this is where the logic of industrial farming gets us. Instead of people on the land, committed to the welfare of the agricultural enterprise and the resources that make it possible, there was this horror — a place where millions of chickens are crowded in tiny cages and hundreds of laborers work in dire conditions.

Thankfully, I don’t buy eggs from this kind of mammoth, disease-spreading system. I buy eggs from a local farmer just down the street. His hens are out to pasture with his cows. They eat grass, bugs, and larvae. Their diet isn’t even supplemented with feed. They get sun. It’s what’s called a pastured poultry operation, and you should try to find one near you, too.

Of such operations, Joel Salatin wrote:

So far, not one case of food-borne pathogens has been reported among the thousands of pastured poultry producers, many of whom have voluntarily had their birds analyzed. Routinely, these home-dressed birds, which have not been treated with chlorine to disinfect them, show numbers far below industry comparisons. At Polyface, we even tested our manure and found that it contained no salmonella.

Pastured poultry farms exhibit trademark lush pastures and healthy chickens with deep-colored egg yolks and fat. As with any movement, some practitioners are excellent and others are charlatans. Knowing your product by putting as much attention on food sourcing as you do on planning your next vacation is the way to insure accountability.

I’d be willing to bet that my farmer’s manure doesn’t contain salmonella, either. And you know what, even if it did, and even if his eggs became contaminated, I’d be willing to bet that the outbreak wouldn’t be responsible for more than 1500 cases of the disease (as the DeCoster farm is). That’s the glory of small-scale producers.

Want to know how to prioritize your egg purchases? Check out this article on Healthy Eggs: What to Buy.

(photo by cskk)


  1. says

    I use to get organic supermarket eggs in between my trips to the farmers market. But a few years ago I made it a priority to get my eggs from a local sustainable farmer, no matter how out of the way- especially that I was serving raw egg based foods to my kids.
    One of the things that frustrates me over the egg coverage is that they are placing all the responsibility on consumers to prevent disease by stressing that eggs should not be consumed raw instead of expecting producers to clean up their act.
    I hope this incident pushes more people to support local farms for their food instead of cheaper industrialized alternatives.
    .-= Lisa´s last blog post …Almond Flour Waffles Plus What is SCD =-.

    • says

      That’s the way they treat everything — cook your burgers well-done to avoid e.coli, etc. As to increasing consumer demand for more local foods, I know that my farmer/egg source sells out of eggs quickly (within minutes) of the market opening. I actually stand in line *before* the market opens to make sure I can get some! If demand for his eggs goes up, I’ll probably just be out of luck. :(

      • Lisa says

        Our farmer runs out of eggs quick especially during the winter months when the chickens just seem to be laying less. I asked if I could reserve some and she gave me her number and I text every week the day before market and she sets aside how many ever dozen I want with my name on them. Have you ever asked your farmer if he will do that for you?

  2. says

    I have my own hens so I don´t worry at all.
    I know my hens are healthy and if I want to make mayo or other recipes with raw eggs I just get a fresh laid egg less than 24 hours.
    It takes aprox 24 h for salmonella from outside to get into the middle.
    Lots of research in Denamrk have showed that the risk of getting salmonella is very small from eggs laid from free range or organic eggs. The hens are simply healthier and the fact that organic hens have to be pastured in DK makes organic eggs the best bet
    BUT I don´t use store bought organic eggs for parties( if I need to get more than from my hens) -since I know they are older than 24 hours when they reach me,
    .-= Henriette´s last blog post …Weston A Price mødet i London =-.

  3. says

    I’m glad you posted this. I get farm egg from my fiance brother. I have been debating on increasing my protein with raw eggs in my noon shake. He says that its safe. I have not bought store eggs in years.

  4. Christine says

    My kids only like their eggs scrambled these days. Any suggestions on how I can get raw egg in their diets? We are big smoothie drinkers here it is how I get things they don’t like in their diet. I would love any tips. Thanks for the post!!!!

  5. Camille says

    I did some research a while back because I have my own lovely chickens. In my search I stumbled across a university professor whose concentrated his studies on salmonella. Backyard chickens are MORE likely to be contaminated by salmonella because of they come in contact with wild birds who can be contaminated with salmonella. So unless you keep your chickens completely contained and not let them free range you are playing roulette.
    Being infected with salmonella is not a pleasant thing.

  6. Rachel Zeze via Facebook says

    Though it’s a pain I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. I didn’t get it in North America, but you don’t want to mess around with it.
    Knowing where your eggs come from is a huge bonus! I love our farmer!

  7. Elizabeth Melissa Philo via Facebook says

    We’re under quarantine for bird flu!! Found in a nearby farm! Glad our hens don’t have access to any open water.

  8. Jessica Holiday Nettle-Finch via Facebook says

    I do know my farmer, and I still got salmonella (while pregnant) from those eggs. It helps, but it doesn’t help 100%.

  9. Keri Hessel via Facebook says

    “So far, not one case of food-borne pathogens has been reported among the thousands of pastured poultry producers, many of whom have voluntarily had their birds analyzed. Routinely, these home-dressed birds, which have not been treated with chlorine to disinfect them, show numbers far below industry comparisons. At Polyface, we even tested our manure and found that it contained no salmonella.” – interesting. Does anyone know if Organic Valley eggs are OK?

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