Pregnant women can eat runny or even raw eggs under new advice issued by the government’s food safety watchdog.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) said it had revised its advice after a “thorough and robust” review of new scientific evidence.
It found those vulnerable to infection can safely eat raw or lightly cooked eggs – provided they were produced under the British Lion code of practice – without risking their health.
A report published by the Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food (ACMSF) in July last year said the presence of salmonella in UK eggs had been “dramatically reduced” in recent years.
This meant that the risks were now “very low” for eggs that carried the British Lion quality mark. More than 90% of UK eggs are produced under this scheme, recognisable by a familiar red stamp on the egg.
Advice since the late 1980s has been that vulnerable groups should not consume raw or lightly cooked eggs – or dishes containing them, such as home-made mousses and mayonnaise.
This was because the eggs could contain salmonella bacteria, which can cause food poisoning leading, in the most serious cases of infection, to death.
“The FSA has thoroughly reviewed the scientific evidence about the safety of these eggs, and we’re confident that we can now change our advice to consumers,” said FSA chair Heather Hancock.
“We know that the previous advice has deterred many women from eating eggs when pregnant, and from giving them to their babies, as well as denying older people the pleasure and nutritional benefits of a ‘dippy egg’ and home-made mousses and mayonnaise,” said Andrew Joret, chair of the British Egg Industry Council, which runs the British Lion scheme.
“The advice is particularly good news for these groups and will also enable care homes to put many traditional egg dishes back on their menus.”
The advice on UK eggs that do not carry the Lion mark, non-hen eggs and imported eggs from outside the UK is that they should always be cooked thoroughly for vulnerable people.
In August this year, UK supermarkets withdrew egg products from their shelves as it emerged that 700,000 eggs from Dutch farms implicated in a contamination scare had been distributed to Britain.
Fears over salmonella peaked in the late 1980s when 2 million chickens were slaughtered and pregnant women were told to avoid undercooked eggs.
In early 1989 the link between eggs and salmonella poisoning was proved. Ten years later, the egg industry launched the British Lion code to shore up consumer confidence.
The FSA said it was also important to pay attention to “best before” dates and store eggs safely in a cool, dry place such as the fridge.