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Ensuring a Safer Egg

In August 2010, an outbreak of Salmonella Enteritidis (SE) was responsible for illness in almost 2,000 people in at least 25 states. More than 550 million eggs were recalled from the market. While methods have been in place to test for the presence of SE in eggs, the traditional methodology is time consuming, requiring up to 10 days to determine the presence or absence of SE in egg samples.

Recognizing that this timeframe wasn’t acceptable, the microbiology laboratory at Penn Vet’s New Bolton Center has played a significant role in the development of rapid SE-specific molecular diagnostic methods. The polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test developed at Penn Vet allows quick determination of the presence or absence of SE in egg samples, and provides accurate results in approximately 27 hours – a tenfold reduction in waiting time for results.

This methodology came in handy for the Federal Egg Safety Program, which requires all large-scale producers in the US to test for SE before products reach consumers.

As a result, the Salmonella Enteritidis Detection Kit was developed by Shelley Rankin, PhD, associate professor of microbiology at Penn Vet and chief of NBC’s microbiology, in collaboration with The Life Technologies Corporation, which allows producers to quickly test their eggs for SE. FDA-approved for use in the Federal Egg Safety Program in early 2011, the kit was validated by Dr. Rankin’s lab.

“Penn Vet has been collaborating with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to ensure food safety for decades,” said Dr. Joan C. Hendricks, the Gilbert S. Kahn Dean of Penn Vet. “The adoption of our egg-testing protocols by the FDA illustrates our researchers’ success in their field and the importance that veterinary researchers play in ensuring public health and food safety. I am thrilled that Penn Vet is continuing to lead the way in setting the standard in food safety and public health.”

“The FDA equivalence determination for this test marks a milestone for the egg industry in this country,” said Dr. Rankin. “The Commonwealth was the first state in the nation to initiate a voluntary egg quality assurance program and the Pennsylvania Animal Diagnostic Laboratory System will be the first to implement this new level of testing. It's very exciting that the FDA has adopted this test for the Federal Egg Safety Program. This action demonstrates their commitment to delivering the safest quality food to the consumer and I'm proud to be a part of that trend.”

Penn Vet has been active in the development and implementation of the state’s PEQAP (Pennsylvania Egg Quality Assurance Program), and much of what has been learned and shared by PEQAP forms the basis for the national Egg Safety Program. Dr. Rankin has more than 20 years experience in the detection and characterization of Salmonella from human and animal sources.

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