FSA CEO Jason Feeney assures us that, following the fipronil scandal, there’s no need to change the way we buy eggs or egg products. I beg to differ. If you read the list of fipronil recalls, the full significance of the vague word ‘products’ after the clear word ‘eggs’ becomes clear. The rogue products aren’t eggs bought in their natural packaging - a shell - but those technologically altered in various ways to suit the convenience of food manufacturers and the catering trade.
It’s the same old story: dodgy foods turn up like the proverbial bad penny in products that have gradually lost their identity as they pass through various opaque stages of processing. A company, not the egg producer, shells eggs in a factory and transforms them into ready-to-use products for the chef, the sandwich-making factory, the manufacturer of egg mayonnaise for cafeterias and takeaways.
My investigations of the processed food industry have shocked even cynical old me. I learned how - be it onions, tomatoes, herbs, meat - just how rarely manufacturers buy foods in their original form. In the case of eggs, these are supplied to manufacturers in many forms: powders, albumen-only special ‘high gels’, liquid pasteurised, yolk only, whites only, frozen or chilled with ‘extended shelf life’, concentrated, dried, quick frozen, coagulated. Naively I pictured that sandwich manufacturers actually boiled and shelled their own eggs to make products like Scotch eggs and ‘fillers’. Dream on. They cut labour costs by purchasing, often from abroad, pre-cooked, shelled eggs.
The most repellent product I came across was ‘tubular eggs’: liquid yolk and white preformed into 300g cylinder or tube shapes so each slice is identical. They’re a boon to sandwich makers: no wastage in the form of rounded ends, every slice identical.
So here’s what Mr Feeney should tell the public: ‘These recalls relate to industrially processed egg products sold to companies that manufacture convenience ingredients for supermarkets, restaurants, and caterers. No intact shell eggs are affected.’ He might also add this sentence: ‘It’s healthy, cheap, and easy to boil your own eggs, so give it a try.’
Joanna Blythman is a journalist and author of Swallow This