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Eggs, in varying numbers and forms (currently 2), have been my staple breakfast for the better part of the last 20 years. In fact, one of my earliest memories is eating my eggs while on the train on my way to school. Eggs are also probably the only reason I got through hostel without becoming too malnourished. It’s pretty safe to say that I can’t live without eggs. Unfortunately for me, and for everybody else who eats eggs, there are some serious safety issues with the eggs we get in India.
The Business Standard and NDTV recently reported that some Indian poultry rearing farms maybe following practices that aren’t upto international standards. Both reports relied on a study, which cited contaminated feed, bad rearing and handling practices, and non-sterilization of egg shells (a common practice in the West) as the reasons for egg contamination in India. The Business Standard report also noted that when eggs were collected from both urban retail outlets and directly from the farms, salmonella contamination, on the shell as well as in the eggs, was far more prevalent in the eggs collected from the urban retail outlets.
The NDTV report listed out a few precautions for people to take in order to avoid infections arising from consuming contaminated eggs. These measures include washing eggs before storing them, consuming them within 2 hours of taking them out of the refrigerator, not consuming raw or half cooked eggs, etc. NDTV also recommends using organic eggs. Unfortunately, organic eggs are ridiculously expensive in India.

 Eggs should be making kids healthy, not sick!

While salmonella contamination is definitely a serious food safety issue, there is another, more disturbing issue with eggs in India; heavy metal and pesticide contamination! A 2005 study on organochloride pesticide residue in poultry feed, meat and eggs on a farm in Punjab found hexaxhlorocyclohexane (HCH) and dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) residue in the eggs tested. The study noted that the residue content of both chemicals was above the maximum residue limits despite there being a BAN on the use of both chemicals for agricultural purposes in India. While one can always argues that it was an isolated incident and the sample size of the study was too small, I still find it disturbing that residues of BANNED pesticides were found. Another study, published in 2010, found lead and cadmium in the eggs tested. The study noted heavy metal poisoning in children from eating contaminated eggs could result in IQ deficiencies and even mental retardation.

 Eggs are a popular food item whose consumption is encouraged, even by the Government, because it is considered a ‘superfood’. This makes it contamination of eggs a major food safety issue that the Government and the FSSAI need to tackle on a war footing. The Business Standard article that I mentioned earlier did note that the Food Safety & Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) is in the process of introducing standards for fresh eggs. I think that these standards need to be notified as soon as possible. The FSSAI also needs to come up with an enforceable solution for the heavy metal contamination problem because that can’t be dealt with at home through proper storage and cooking practices.

Eggs should be making kids healthy, not sick!