Scrambled, fried, poached and boiled - there are many ways we like to eat our eggs, but there's nothing over easy about the discovery of salmonella enteritidis in New Zealand.
A Hawke's Bay egg producer says the strain of salmonella, combined with what he says is increased potential for future outbreaks, could spell the end of Kiwis enjoying runny eggs or licking their cake mix from the bowl.
Laurie Horsfall, of Hawke's Bay Eggs in Hastings, said with more free-range chicken and egg farms set up around the country, more biosecurity-related issues are going to hatch.
Food safety experts disagree with Horsfall's claims about free-range farms but note that the discovery means precautions with eggs are needed.
The strain of salmonella, which can cause a variety of ills and prove more serious in vulnerable people, was first picked up during testing by the Ministry for Primary Industries in June this year.
New Zealand Food Safety director of food regulation Dr Paul Dansted said no eggs had tested positive. However, it was possible that some eggs could contain the bacteria so it was prudent to provide advice to consumers and warn against uncooked eggs.
Horsfall said it could have been introduced by birds in a free-range situation, where "cross-contamination" occurred with wild birds.
"There's no getting away from it," he said. "It's going to be an ongoing issue."
"A lot of it comes back to biosecurity."
However, Vince Arbuckle, deputy director-general at New Zealand Food Safety, says there is no evidence to suggest that the outbreak is linked to any biosecurity risks posed by increased free-range farming.
"To date there are 11 poultry operations that have recorded positive results for this SE strain, three of which produce eggs for human consumption. All detections have been from the farm environment, not from eggs.
"NZFS is undertaking further testing of 20 egg-laying facilities and five chick rearers that collectively account for 80 per cent of the industry's table eggs.
"So far 20 farms have been sampled with no positive detections."
Horsfall transitioned his poultry operation from conventional caged eggs to a colony cage system, with 10 per cent free-range production.
He felt it was important that all egg producers, even those with just a few chooks, follow a risk management plan to help limit the spread of biosecurity hazards.
It had "huge" implications, not just for the industry but also backyarders, he said.
"It is concerning," he said, adding that one friend had had to cull 60,000 birds as a result and was now out of the industry.
Horsfall encouraged people to take precautions in how they store their eggs, keeping them at a consistent temperature in darker places. "It doesn't have to be the fridge".
Distinguished Professor of Food Safety and Veterinary Public Health Nigel French said it was "concerning" as the bacteria could be transferred to the egg, either during egg development or when the hen is nesting.
He said Kiwis were "historically quite relaxed" about storing and cooking with eggs due to a lack of salmonella in the country.
While cafes and restaurants were advised against preparing dishes featuring runny or raw eggs, he said it came down to personal choice about risk.
"We have to be a bit more careful than we have been in the past.
"The last thing we want to do, though, is be overly prescriptive."
Asked about getting more free-range farms, French said it "feels very speculative".
"We don't know how this came into New Zealand.
"I would advise people to take biosecurity seriously. There is always a risk."
MPI advises there are key actions consumers can take to protect against salmonella enteritidis, including:
- Keep eggs in the fridge after purchase.
- Cook eggs thoroughly - until the white is completely firm and the yolk begins to thicken.
- Wash your hands after handling eggs.
- Consume eggs within the recommended date on the carton.
- Don't serve raw eggs to children under two, pregnant woman, the frail and elderly, and people with low or compromised immune systems.
- Keep surfaces and kitchen utensils clean and dry before and after handling eggs.
- Use clean eggs free from dirt, faecal matter and cracks.