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Raw, Undercooked Eggs Tied to Rise in Salmonella Poisoning Cases in Northeast

December 10, 1987|DANIEL P. PUZO | Times Staff Writer

Raw and undercooked eggs have been linked to a dramatic rise in salmonella cases throughout the Northeastern United States over the last several years, according to a recent federal study.

In fact, the incidence of Salmonella enteritidis has increased by 500% since the mid-1970s in parts of the region. In 1985, for instance, there were 3,176 confirmed S. enteritidis infections, making this egg-borne strain the most common in New Jersey, New York and New Hampshire.

The bacterium, which can prove fatal in susceptible individuals, causes nausea, vomiting and fever.

Federal investigators at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta found that several foods acted as vehicles for the bacterium. Among the implicated items were undercooked scrambled eggs in Connecticut, a liquid protein supplement (containing egg) in Pennsylvania, homemade pasta in New Jersey, Italian-style rice balls in New York City and a regional brand of frozen pasta.

"Much of the increase . . . has been strongly, though not exclusively, associated with consumption of raw and undercooked commercial Grade A eggs from farms throughout the Northeast," according to the California Morbidity newsletter, which carried an account of the federal study.

Precaution for California

Investigators have yet to pinpoint how the eggs themselves continue to be contaminated.

Although the percentage of S. e nteritidis is considered low in California, federal health officials issued precautions about eating raw eggs nonetheless.

The recommendations include:

--Advising consumers that eggs, like any other raw food of animal origin, may cause salmonella infections.

--Raw eggs should not be considered a "health food" and should not be included in the diets of immunocompromised individuals such as infants, the elderly and cancer or AIDS patients.

--Recipes leading to consumption of raw eggs (Caesar salad, eggnog, Hollandaise sauce, homemade ice cream or mayonnaise) should be considered risky. These recipes would be safe if pasteurized egg products were substituted for raw egg.

--Advising restaurants, schools and other food-service establishments of the risk posed by raw eggs. The practice of cracking dozens of uncooked eggs into a single container and letting them sit for future use should be discontinued in favor of individually cracking eggs for immediate cooking.

--Consideration should be given to using only pasteurized egg products instead of fresh eggs in nursing home populations, because they appear to be at high risk for severe disease and death from S. enteritidis infections.

The sharp increases of S. enteritidis on the East Coast has also prompted California health officials to urge that this state's physicians be alert for the bacterium and any suspected egg-borne illness.

Calling Calcium--Even though health professionals remain at odds over the actual dietary benefits derived from vitamin and mineral supplements, many consumers continue to make the nutrient-laden pills and tablets a daily habit.

Others, however, remain confused by conflicting sources of information.

At one end of the controversy, traditional nutritionists endorse the benefits of a well-rounded diet--eschewing vitamin pills. Conversely, proponents of the health-food trade enthusiastically boost the encapsulated nutrients. And, on occasion, the medical profession weighs in with yet another disparate view.

Now, into the breach comes Procter & Gamble, which has launched a toll-free phone service that aims to answer the questions surrounding one of the more widely publicized supplements: calcium.

Callers to the Calcium Hot Line, launched last month, can discuss the dietary importance of this mineral, its purported role in maintaining bone strength and related health issues with medical professionals at the Dallas Osteoporosis Centre.

As many as 20 million people in this country suffer from some form of osteoporosis, a degenerative bone disease, according to federal statistics. Onset of the illness is thought to be linked, in part, to calcium-deficient diets. Compounding the situation, corresponding surveys found, is that most Americans are not consuming adequate amounts of calcium as defined by federal guidelines.

Procter & Gamble is sponsoring the phone service as a means of promoting Citrus Hill Plus Calcium, orange and grapefruit juice beverages. The Cincinnati-based consumer products firm claims that an eight-ounce serving of Citrus Hill, the first juice drink enhanced with calcium, provides 30% of the U.S. Recommended Dietary Allowance for the mineral.

The hot line provides a range of information on all dietary sources of calcium, the need for proper exercise and details on osteoporosis symptoms and treatment.

The service is available Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. PST at (800) 722-2663.

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