The FDA is issuing draft guidance with practical and reasonable food safety controls to help egg producers who provide their laying hens with outdoor access comply with the Egg Safety Rule and thereby prevent Salmonella Enteritidis (SE) in shell eggs. The FDA believes the draft guidance will help clarify how the Egg Safety Rule applies to their operations so the egg producers can confidently and efficiently implement the appropriate food safety measures.
Recognizing that there are a wide variety of operations that offer their laying hens outdoor access, before issuing the draft guidance, the FDA visited a number of farms to observe first-hand a range of laying operations with variations in poultry house design and field conditions.
The draft guidance describes different types of poultry houses and outdoor access areas and offers practical measures to control for SE by preventing wild birds, rodents, and other animals from entering the outdoor access areas and advice on conducting environmental sampling for SE. It also discusses considerations related to vaccination of laying hens.
The FDA issued a final rule (“the egg rule”) on July 9, 2009, requiring shell egg producers and certain other persons to implement measures to prevent Salmonella Enteritidis (SE) from contaminating eggs on the farm and from further growth during storage and transportation (21 CFR part 118). The egg rule became effective September 8, 2009. The compliance date for the egg rule is July 9, 2010, for producers with 50,000 or more laying hens, and July 9, 2012, for producers with fewer than 50,000 but at least 3,000 laying hens. Producers with fewer than 3,000 laying hens and those that sell all of their eggs directly to consumers are exempt from the egg rule.
Organic Egg Production
The USDA National Organic Program regulations require that organic poultry have year-round access to the outdoors. Birds must have access to the outdoors, shade, shelter, exercise areas, fresh air, clean water for drinking, and direct sunlight (7 CFR 205.239(a)(1)). Poultry are allowed to be temporarily confined in some circumstances, such as inclement weather or conditions under which the birds’ health, safety, or well-being could be jeopardized (7 CFR 205.239(b)). However, continuous total confinement indoors is prohibited by USDA’s regulations (7 CFR 205.239(a)(1)).
Four housing styles are most often used for organic egg production. The majority of houses in use for organic egg production are either one of these four styles or some variation. The four housing styles are described and illustrated below.
- Indoor Area with Porch: A porch is attached to one side of an indoor area. The porch is enclosed with fence material, such as poultry wire; the porch’s roof can be solid or made of wire or netting. The porch’s floor is often concrete, but can be dirt or grass. Access holes connect the indoor area to the porch.
- Indoor Area with Outdoor Run – Row Style: Multiple flocks are segregated from one another by a series of adjacent structures that are lined up in a row, very similar to how houses at an in-line farm are arranged. Each indoor area connects to at least one (often two) outdoor runs. The outdoor runs are fenced, usually with poultry wire. The fencing prevents poultry from straying beyond the entire structure and from moving between houses. The outdoor access area may have no coverage overhead or it may be covered with netting, and the floors are grass or dirt. Access holes connect the indoor areas to the runs. Runs may be divided into several sections.
- Indoor Area with Outdoor Run – Attached Run Style: An outdoor run is attached either to the end of an indoor area (as depicted in the drawing) or to the side of an indoor area, i.e., where a porch would be located. The outdoor run is a fenced-in area extending from the indoor area; there may be no coverage overhead or it may be covered with netting. The floor of the outdoor run is dirt or grass, and the size of the run can vary greatly. Access holes connect the outdoor run to the side or end of the indoor area, depending on where the run is located.
- Pasture Containing an Indoor Area: An indoor area is located within an outdoor fenced pasture. The indoor area may be a permanent structure or it may be a moveable structure. Moveable structures may be built on skids, or moveable trailers retrofitted with nest boxes may be used. The pasture area may have no coverage overhead or it may be covered with netting, and the size of the pasture varies greatly. If the indoor area is moveable, the housing system usually is designed such that the pastures can be rotated, i.e., the fencing surrounding the pasture can be moved or relocated to fence a fresh patch of pasture, and the indoor area can be moved to the new area with a tractor. In systems with a permanent indoor structure, access holes connect the indoor area to the outdoor pasture. In systems with a moveable structure, access to the outdoor pasture area is through some type of opening in the structure, e.g., an open gate if a retrofitted trailer is used.
For more information, visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration online.
Image: U.S. FDA