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Health and safety law in action

All eggs that are sold in the United States would be illegal according to European health regulations.

Also, all eggs that are sold in Europe would be illegal according to US health regulations.

36 comments to Health and safety law in action

  • An awful lot of French cheese is banned in the US. In fact, it’s probably banned in the EU, only the French gave probably got an exemption.

  • Very interesting article.

    And speaking as an avid consumer of French cheese, if anything could drive me terrorism, it would be banning my cheese!

  • This article by Mark Steyn on the subject of French cheese being banned in the US is worth reading.

  • Mr Ed

    Next thing you know they will be banning fondues on ground of health and safety. Mind you, a neighbour of mine and his son were badly scaled when his fondue set exploded, it was a gruyèresome sight.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    OK, send us some uneatable-here European eggs and we’ll send you some uneatable-there US eggs and then we’ll all throw them at our respective politicians.

  • Brad

    Pretty soon people are going to start thinking this is less about safety and more about Puritanical need to control. What good is it to know more than everybody else if you can’t stand on somebody’s neck now and again? Of course, complaining about inconsistencies of one group of Betters versus another simply will lead to a drive – by a certain group of grandiose schizophrenics – for The Singularity.

  • Laird

    Very interesting article. It actually provides the rationale for the two different regulatory approaches, and neither seems demonstrably superior. Personally, I think I prefer the European approach (not that I have any say in the matter).

    Not only are many French cheeses banned here in the US, but so is all imported haggis! It’s an absolute outrage; I’m forced to buy canned haggis made in (I hope you’re sitting down) Texas. Fortunately, there appears to be some movement toward eliminating this travesty. One can only hope.

  • Mr Ed

    It’s an absolute outrage; I’m forced to buy canned haggis

    Surely that engages the 8th Amendment? ‘nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.’

  • Mr Ed

    Apologies for my flippancy above. As a graduate microbiologist I can see the merit in both approaches outlined if one is prepared to accept government deciding on whether eggs should be ‘safe’. I have at least 3 sources of fresh free-range eggs in my English village, all mercifully unregulated, providing eggs I am at liberty to choose, unless the jackdaws steal them first. My life I risk with every whisk. If I am exposed to small doses of potential pathogens, my immune response should be kept vigilant.

    Quite why people should make themselves ill using eggs is a bit of a mystery to me as it is relatively easy to eliminate the risks of contamination if you can be bothered to apply yourself to cleaning eggs or cracking them at a clean spot to reduce the inoculum of bacteria, and cooking (potentially) infected eggs in a manner that achieves pasteurisation or better (unless you want a raw deal). Of course there are careless, indifferent and/or stupid people out there, but that is life. What would be the response of (i) the media and (ii) people in ‘real life’ if a government were to say: ‘If you are stupid or careless, you might make yourself and others ill if you can’t do basic hygiene, wise up and get serious, that’s all we’ll say or do.‘?

  • William O. B'Livion

    So basically both sides have a reasonable (fcvo) regulatory regime that when all are apprised of the rules generally works to prevent the spread of certain disease.

    What we were not given was any information on how bad things were before the regulation.

  • It seems reasonable to guess that there are at least two regulatory regimes that provide reasonable safety for egg consumption. The problem is they require the end consumer to behave differently, to refrigerate or not to refrigerate. It’s sort of like picking a side of the road to drive on. All left or all right works fine. My game theory professor said that there was a third solution to that particular one which is half the time driving on one side and half the time on the other. He called it the ‘Bombay solution’ (and yes, he was from there).

    I can see difficulty in supermarkets stocking some eggs refrigerated and others not and insisting that you don’t move eggs from one section to another.

  • Fred the Fourth

    One of the Forbes commenters notes
    “I’m sure this is only one of myriad examples of different territories having polar-opposite rules on how a product or service must be regulated, each being justified in its own way.”
    Or even overlapping territories. There was a case in California years ago where a food-processing conveyor machine was compliant with US Fed OSHA rules (it had an inspection and cleaning hatch), but said hatch was in violation of Cal-OSHA rules.

  • Eggs should be produced as locally as possible. Shipping adds cost and time.

  • Rob

    I believe Kinder Eggs are banned in the US, with a $10,000 fine for importing them. Is this true?

  • Russtovich

    Rob,

    With respect to Kinder Eggs being banned in the US, according to Mark Steyn it is indeed true.

    http://www.steynonline.com/6276/choc-and-awe

    Cheers

  • David

    Huh – try importing anything with beef in it from the UK to the US. Fray Bentos tinned beef steak and kidney pies are verboten, although you can order as many chicken and mushroom pies as your wallet and stomach will bear. I believe it is decades since any cow went mad in the UK, but the rules march on regardless.

  • Mr Ed

    FraY Bentos is a town in Uruguay, so that’s where that beef comes from. It’s fairly safe, but there has been a mad cow case over the River Plate, one was found wandering around the Casa Rosada, muttering that she was la Presidenta. Amazingly enough, they believed her.

  • Huh – try importing anything with beef in it from the UK to the US.

    Ironic indeed when you consider the mostly grass fed beef from the UK is now probably safer than mostly grain fed hormone laced beef from the USA. What I would really like is to be able to chose myself though.

  • Mr Ed

    Perry, you don’t think this safety stuff is about the safety of campaign contributions from, say, farmers, do you?

  • Laird

    “My life I risk with every whisk.”

    Surely that is SQOTD fodder!

  • nick (natural genius) Gray

    Laird, wouldn’t eating Haggis be the torture? Why put yourself through it?
    As for eggs, how safe would 100 year old eggs be? Shouldn’t someone be telling the Chinese to stop eating them? 100 years is longer than most best-by dates I’ve ever heard of!

  • Paul Marks

    It is not in the interests of a shop to sell eggs that will poison their customers.

    And local media (as well as consumer groups) would expose any enterprise that did.

    So the whole “health and safety” stuff is nonsense.

    See Milton Friedman’s “Free To Choose” – the chapter titled “Who Protects the Consumer”.

  • CaptDMO

    SO I guess those free range chickens that I STRIVE (depends on the weather) to get form my neighbor
    are off “the list” of BOTH regulatory agencies?
    1. I get a discount because I moved their kids old “playhouse” to become an expansion of the chicken coop, WITHOUT A CHICKEN COOP MOVING LICENCE, OR an “official” OK from the planning board!
    2. SOMETIMES, they’re not refrigerated before I use them. Apparently, it takes time to get them from “body temperature” down to an “approved” temp.
    3. Those chickens eat FREE RANGE BUGS, and there CAN be Poop on the shells.
    You want “shelf life”? Clean them with bleach, and dip them in wax. (you know, like “foreign” cheese)

  • CaptDMO

    And I’m with Perry on this.
    Any bureaucrats want to face MY ire, all they have to do is cut the cheese.

  • Fred Z

    Soon they will regulate whether one can eat from the big end of the egg or the little.

  • Plamus

    M. Simon: “Eggs should be produced as locally as possible. Shipping adds cost and time.”

    I am probably feeding the troll, but… okay, here we go. Three statements are being made here:

    1) “Shipping adds cost” – while true, this statement if worthless unless quantified. In the US, for example, eggs in the supermarket are graded medium (starting at 1.75 oz) through jumbo (more than 2.5 oz). Splitting the difference gets you 2.125 oz. A dozen eggs is thus 1.6 lbs, and let’s generously assume that all layers of packaging bump that up to 2.0 lbs. A typical tractor trailer payload is approx. 44,000 lbs, so it can carry 22,000 dozens of eggs, but let’s discount that to 15,000 because of the fragile nature of eggs and this anecdatum. According to this (best I could find) the average trucking cost in the US is $1.38 per mile, and allowing for a generous 45% profit margin for the greedy bloodsucking trucker, that’s $2.00 per mile. Thus, if my dozen of eggs travels 400 miles, which is England top to bottom, you’ll add $800 in cost, of $0.05 cents per dozen. Eggs from Milan would cost only $0.10 more in London than in Italy. Eggs in the UK seem to be selling for roughly £2 per dozen, as far as I can tell, or $3.30, so your uova milanese have added a whopping 3% in cost. Eggs from Sarajevo would get hit with a 5% transportation handicap. And that is with US costs of trucking, which, I surmise, are higher than those for the EU. Bringing them eggs over from Shang-freaking-hai adds about 32.3%. If a truck made a full trip around the globe, the transportation cost would be just over 100%.

    2) “Shipping adds … time.” – Well, we all owe you for that insight, Captain. Thanks to the ever helpful Google, the drive from Milan to London, in current traffic, is about 13 hours. With some unloading, shelf-stocking, etc, you can expect your “uovo” at Tesco to be, on average, about 24 hours… mmm… less fresh?… than the local eggs. Eggs brought from Nottingham would be 2.5 hours “staler”. If this is your big grudge, all I have to say to you is “first world problems”.

    3) “Eggs should be produced as locally as possible.” – Even if we assume 1) and 2) are correct and significant, 3) just does not follow. Cost-benefit analysis is not done by looking at only 2 costs of a decision with dozens of them, and at none of the benefits. Seriously, do you not see this? Are you that blinded by your guiding light, whatever it is? Sadly, I cannot render you here a full-blown economics lecture on comparative advantage (can refer you to resources if you wish though), so here is my back-of-the-envelope reply. Do you produce your own eggs at home? And do not grin “gotcha” if you do, since I also ask did you make the keyboard you are typing on at home? If not, why not? “As locally as possible” means inside your household, right?

  • Well I was thinking oceans. I live across the pond.

  • nick (natural genius) Gray

    Fred Zee, you don’t mean that you eat from the big end, do you? Call the food cops! Revoke his license to use a kitchen! Somebody do something, or civilisation will end!

  • Mr Ed

    Eggs should be produced as locally as possible. Shipping adds cost and time.

    There’s no ‘must’ in that, it’s just advice. Add one word and it makes perfect culinary sense.

    ‘Scrambled Eggs should be produced as locally as possible. Shipping adds cost and time.’

  • Gareth

    Different regulations in different places. What an astonishing concept.

    It needn’t require any kind of harmonisation of rules to get cross-atlantic egg trade going either. You need a mutual recognition of each other’s rules, eggs that are clearly labeled as to their origin and how to store them at home, and checks to ensure eggs are stored appropriately in transport and shops.

  • So all this said and done, whose face is the egg on?

  • Rob Fisher (Surrey)

    Mr Ed, if you are still about: “As a graduate microbiologist” … “small doses” … “cleaning eggs or cracking them at a clean spot to reduce the inoculum of bacteria” … “pasteurisation or better”

    Can you help me to build a mental model of pathogen spread, infection and elimination? What I am struggling with is that all food safety advice seems like arbitrary rules. And, as you may have noticed from my writing on this site, I struggle with arbitrary rules.

    I want to be able to figure out things for myself. For example, the packaging on my chicken breast says, “consume within two days of opening.” Well, what happens when I open it? Can I eat it after 3 days? Does it help if I keep my fridge 2C colder? What if I cook the chicken *really* well? And what about the mold on that one strawberry? Do I have to throw the whole lot out?

    I need to understand how bacteria and such grow, what types there are, how much the dose affects my chances of getting a belly ache, and how to kill the buggers. Does warm soapy water do it? Then why must I boil my baby’s bottle for 10 minutes?

    Has anyone written a book for the layman about this stuff?

  • A golden rule when travelling in South-East Asia is that if you are in a place where you think that food poisoning is possible, eat nothing that has not just been cooked in front of you. Throw away the salad, but eat the boiled vegetables and the cooked meat. Don’t eat raw eggs, but eat fried eggs. Ask for everything to be well done.

    And you know what? This works. Do that, and you probably won’t get food poisoning. If the contamination is chemical rather than biological, then this may not help, but all the problems caused by food being left too long and/or not properly refrigerated are biological. No, this is not infallible, but the rule “If the food is suspect, make sure it is well done” does actually hold pretty well.

  • Nick (natural genius) Gray

    The egg is on the face of whoever didn’t duck quickly enough in the egg-throwing contest.
    For your poetic efforts, Alisa, I give you a C+. The poem was a bit too short, but quite appropriate. Do keep trying to egg us on.
    We can now answer that old riddle- which came first, the chicken or the egg? Science has discovered that eggs don’t have sexual organs! Therefore the chicken will always come first. Next question?

  • rxc

    This difference in regulatory standards appears in many other contexts: automobiles (glass and visibility standards), boats(electric and gas standards), veterinary issues (rabies and other vaccine standards), building standards (insulation and electric and plumbing), and even nuclear power plants (safety and quality assurance standards). It comes from the fact that we have different political systems and different politicians, and different media responses to events that generate new laws and rules (“to make sure that something like this never happens again”).

    Just look at all the different electrical standards in the EU, and how many electrical adaptors a traveler who travels from the UK to Italy has to carry to make sure he can use his phone charger. In the US, they are the same, from coast to coast.

    We have different standards because we have different sets of values, and we prioritize risks differently – in some cases the prioritization may have to do with real, local situations, but more often it results from the fact that the local culture is just different.

  • Mr Ed

    I need to understand how bacteria and such grow, what types there are, how much the dose affects my chances of getting a belly ache, and how to kill the buggers.

    Rob, sorry for the time taken to respond, but I needed to find some quiet time to respond properly and give a rough guide.

    In considering ‘germs’, remember that there are three main types:

    Bacteria – single-celled simple microorganisms without a nucleus, capable of rapid reproduction in the right conditions. Bacteria are often susceptible to antibiotics. Not all bacteria are pathogenic, some are perfectly harmless, some are occasionally harmful.

    Viruses – packaged strands of DNA or RNA that are effectively inert until they encounter a host cell, which they invade and hijack, taking over the replication machinery (some hide in the cell DNA). Antibiotics have no effect on viruses, but anti-viral drugs can inhibit some viruses.

    Fungi –organisms that have a complex cell structure (eukaryotes – like plant and mammal cells). The ones that cause illnesses are unicellular, but they rarely cause food poisoning (although ergot in rye is another matter). The nasty thing about fungal infections is that the similarity in cell metabolism to mammal cells makes them very hard to treat with antibiotics, as what kills them tends to kill the fundamentally similar mammal cells, and anti-bacterial antibiotics have no effect on them. (c.f. snakes don’t get rabies).

    Amoeba (e.g. malaria) are rarely eaten, but may be in water. Bleach is a good way of killing them.

    The main problems for us are caused by bacteria. Bacteria are very varied and can be adaptable. They can mutate rapidly and spread DNA between themselves via plasmids (small bits of autonomous DNA that can carry genes for, say, antibiotic resistance).

    Bacteria can cause problems by either infecting wounds, or infecting an area of the body (e.g. the gut) where they may attach to the host gut, kill host cells, release toxins and devour nutrients and stir up an immune response, which involves the body attacking the infected area, with a fever response, Email to Claimant. Some bacteria are harmless in one part of the body, where they sit happily, but if they get to another part, may adapt and start attacking.

    Bacteria can also produce toxins that cause harm, and one nasty aspect of toxins is that not all are heat-labile, so a batch of food that is sterile with dead bacteria may contain intact toxins that do harm, but at least the dose of toxin is limited to that ingested.

    Another nasty bacterial trick is to produce spores that are incredibly tough and may survive pressure cooking, and germinate into bacteria all set to go and attack the host or produce toxins in the food.

    Bacteria can be killed off in a number of ways: Gamma Radiation (surgical instruments can be sterilised this way), UV light, even tropical sunlight in water (UV) (by degrading DNA), heat or heat and pressure (120C at 2 atmospheres for 20 minutes tends to curdle almost all bacteria, and chemical methods (bleach in water, the bleach will naturally decompose).

    This may be trite, but in order to infect, bacteria need to present and in a sufficient dose to (i) survive, say, the stomach, and (ii) to provide a sufficiently large dose to end up doing harm (think of the heroic Dieppe Raid vs D-Day).

    Bacteria may be found in food, or may be present on surfaces (e.g. a baby’s bottle). Food poisoning typically occurs when food is cooked/prepared insufficiently so that (i) bacteria survive and/or (ii) toxins are produced.

    Bacteria in meat typically comes from contamination in preparation, with the gut of the animal being full of bacteria that may contaminate the meat in the process of butchery. Poultry is particularly prone to contamination and other parts may have bacterial populations, e.g. the oviduct.

    Note that the interior of meat is normally sterile. Mammals have highly developed systems to prevent bacterial growth outside the gut/mouth/nose and to a lesser extent lungs. One of the main defences apart from the immune response is to restrict the supply of free iron atoms, so that bacteria cannot obtain a key element needed to reproduce. Some bacteria have very powerful enzymes that can seize the iron they need from mammalian cells, but on the whole, meat is likely to be contaminated on the surface only.

    Other possible bacterial sources of food poisoning are bugs like Bacillus cereus, which is an abundant microbe often found in cereal crops and rice. What makes it very nasty is that it makes spores that survive cooking and if cooked rice is kept at a temperature that allows the spores to germinate, they may produce a large amount of bacteria and toxins and cause havoc after eating. Buffets with warm rice are a particular source of risk here.

    To grow bacteria need (i) water (ii) a food source (iii) the right temperature but not always oxygen (Botulism occurs in bacteria that grow in anaerobic conditions). Some bacteria require oxygen, some can do without, some must go without it or perish from the toxicity of oxygen.

    Water: It is not enough to be damp, bacteria need to extract water against the osmotic pressure of the fluid they are in, so dried food keeps effectively indefinitely, as nothing can grow on it, and in preserves (e.g. jams) sugar may effectively make it impossible for bacteria to grow as they are trying to drag water away from sugar molecules, hence salt beef or bacalhau as preserved food.

    Food source: if there is available water and a food source, some bacteria will be set to go, if the temperature is right.

    Temperature: Most bacteria that cause infections like human body temperature (37C or thereabouts). This may well be their optimal temperature (Yeast, a fungus, prefers 30C, so yeast infections are somewhat moderated by human body temperature). A fever can inhibit bacterial growth by making the body a little too hot for bacteria. Mammals die quickly if the body is too hot or too cold, but in terms of what happens with food, the general rule is that storage at 4C or below will cause all harmful bacteria to plod along very slowly (some bacteria- cryophiles – can grow well below freezing, but in a human body, they are out of their comfort zone). If food is stored above 4C – assuming that it is not sterile or chemically or osmotically rendered hostile (e.g. preservatives or salt/sugar) – then bacteria may grow quietly and produce their toxins.

    Similarly, if food is kept too hot for pathogenic bacteria, then assuming they have survived cooking or other preparation, the high temperature may prevent them from growing or spores from germinating after the food has been rendered safe by cooking.

    Note that Pasteurisation is a process that happily selectively kills pathogenic bacteria by raising a food’s temperature for a time to a level that kills pathogens without the need to go to the UHT process of sterilisation. Food may go off due to bacteria without being toxic (e.g. yoghurt).

    Where risk with bacteria is greatest is where food is:

    1. Contaminated, either on production or by poor storage.
    2. Not cooked or prepared to kill off bacteria and destroy toxins (not all toxins will be destroyed by heat, but dose matters).
    3. Not stored properly after cooking, i.e. not kept hot, or cold, but at a ‘Goldilocks’ temperature, which may allow spores to germinate and re-contaminate what was safe to eat.

    So for preparing food, keep food cool until preparing and heating rapidly through the danger zone temperature of 10C to 45C when bacteria can grow rapidly and once hot and then either rapidly eat or bring down to 4C. Think of it like launching a V2 Rocket. Up, rush along and then down, whereas a V1 dawdles around highly visible, easy to shoot down compared to the V2.

    When it comes to utensils, wood can be particularly attractive for bacteria to sit and breed. Plastic and metal form much less friendly substrates for bacteria, as long as they are dry and unscored.

    Viruses are relatively rare in food poisoning, they tend to come in person to person contact (e.g. Norovirus –winter vomit bug), and again, heat may destroy them.

    Fungi rarely cause food poisoning, but Aspergillus on jam grows as it can gradually extract enough water from the sugar to be able to grow. It also grows on bread (but not on sourdough, due to the low pH and characteristics of the bread).

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