Egg safety, quality and marketability are the focus of a new Agricultural Research Service (ARS) laboratory established this year in Athens, Ga.
The new Egg Safety and Quality Research Unit, based at the Richard B. Russell Research Center, will conduct research to protect both the health of consumers and the marketability of eggs. Scientists will develop improved technologies for egg production and processing that will reduce or eliminate microorganisms that can transmit disease to humans or cause spoilage.
One of the unit's key research goals is to determine how microbial pathogens infect poultry and cause egg contamination, according to ARS microbiologist Richard Gast, the unit's research leader. Additionally, scientists will investigate how poultry production practices can influence such infections.
Researchers will develop methods to prevent pathogens from infecting egg-laying poultry, and tests to detect infected flocks and contaminated eggs. Ultimately, the research may also help improve egg processing practices, which could reduce microbial contamination while enhancing egg quality.
In 2003, an estimated 87.2 billion eggs were produced in the United States, with about 85 percent of them destined for human consumption, according to figures from USDA's Economic Research Service. Per capita consumption of eggs and egg products in 2003 was the equivalent of 254 eggs, an increase of 19 eggs per person from 1990, ERS estimated.
ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.