- Animal Products: eggs
- Animal Production: management related to food safety
The purpose of this project is to identify best poultry management practices for free-range hens that will result in clean eggs (no manure/dirt) and determine if the egg cuticle helps to maintain protection from bacteria. Industry has well-established egg-handling and management regulations (FDA Final Egg Rule) but flocks under 3,000 are exempt. There is a lack of scientifically-based best management and egg-handling practices for small-scale poultry owners even though free-range production imposes stressors on the birds that can increase the risk of bacterial contamination of eggs and pose a food safety risk. A current survey from our lab (URI Egg Handling Survey) compiled management and egg handling practices from producers in the NE SARE region. Results from the survey indicate that a variety of egg handling practices are used including washing eggs (44%) and sometimes/not washing eggs (55%) identifying a need for scientific studies and education. In this proposal, I will compare different management practices (including frequency of egg collection, time of egg collection and nest box location/ type/nest materials) to collect “clean” (no manure or dirt) eggs from free-range hens. Second, I will compare washed and not washed clean eggs to determine the role of the egg cuticle in protecting eggs from bacteria. Considering that several states are setting goals to increase local food production, there is a need for research and education in egg handling for small-scale poultry owners to ensure the sustainability and safety of the local food supply.
Project objectives from proposal:
Objective 1: Determine management practices to reduce manure on eggs from pasture-raised hens
1A. Does frequency of egg collection (1 vs 2 times per day) reduce dirt/manure and bacteria levels? I hypothesize that eggs that are collected once daily sit in a nest box for most of the day and are open to further contamination from other hens sitting and standing on the eggs along with other environmental factors. Increasing the number of times eggs are collected each day could lead to less contamination from other hens and lower bacterial levels.
1B. Does nest box type (conventional wall-mounted vs roll-away) reduce dirt/ manure and bacteria on eggs? In the roll-away boxes, after the egg is laid, the egg rolls forward into a separate compartment because the nest floor is slanted. The conventional wall mounted boxes hold the egg on the nest material in the box after the egg is laid until the egg is collected. The conventional boxes allow other hens to walk and sit on already laid eggs which can lead to contamination and increased manure/dirt on the eggshell. I hypothesize that eggs collected and tested from roll away boxes will have lower bacterial counts and be visibly cleaner compared to the conventional nest box type.
1C. Does nest box location (mounted 18” high or on ground ) reduce dirt/ manure and bacteria on eggs? I hypothesize that nest boxes at floor level will have eggs that are dirtier and carry higher bacterial counts from hens being able to freely walk and hang out in the nesting boxes vs having to jump up and perch to get to higher mounted boxes.
1D. Does nest box material (plastic mat vs straw vs shavings) reduce dirt/ manure and bacteria on eggs? Hay and shavings are the nesting materials most commonly used among farmers and poultry owners (URI Egg Survey) but retain manure and could increase dirty eggs. I hypothesize that nest boxes lined with a plastic mat will produce cleaner eggs with lowered bacterial counts when compared to eggs collected from boxes with hay or shavings.
Objective 2: Comparison of cuticle, bacteria and egg quality measurements on clean (no dirt/manure) washed and unwashed eggs. I will test the hypothesis that the range of bacteria levels will be the same on clean eggs (obtained through best management practices) and washed eggs but the egg cuticle will be removed after washing.