Raw eggs are safe for pregnant women to eat, experts conclude
Pregnant women can safely eat lightly cooked or raw eggs produced in the UK, according to a report published almost 30 years after the salmonella crisis.
The report from the Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food (ACMSF) states that the risk of salmonella in UK eggs produced under the Lion code is "very low".
It is now recommending that the Food Standards Agency (FSA) considers amending its advice on the consumption of eggs for those vulnerable to infection, such as pregnant women.
The FSA advice has been that eating raw or lightly cooked eggs may cause food poisoning.
The report says: "It was the strong view of the working group that there has been a major reduction in the microbiological risk from salmonella in UK hen shell eggs since the 2001 ACMSF report.
"This is especially the case for those eggs produced under the Lion code quality assurance scheme.
"In practical terms, the group considered that the 'very low' risk level means that UK eggs produced under the Lion code, or under demonstrably equivalent comprehensive schemes, can be served raw or lightly cooked to all groups in society, including those that are more vulnerable to infection, in domestic and non-domestic settings, including care homes and hospitals."
The committee adds that the recommendation is not intended to include "severely immunocompromised individuals", but does include "vulnerable groups in general including pregnant women, the young and the elderly".
The Chief Medical Officer and FSA have previously highlighted the risk associated with eating raw and lightly cooked eggs and issued public health advice on their safe handling and use.
Historically the FSA's advice has always been that "eating raw eggs, eggs with runny yolks or any food that is uncooked or only lightly cooked and contains raw eggs may cause food poisoning".
But it has now launched an eight-week consultation based on the outcome of the report.
A statement from the FSA said: "Following committee approval and a UK-wide consultation of the report, the FSA has agreed to examine its advice taking into account the committee's conclusions and recommendations."
Fears over salmonella peaked in the late 1980s when two million chickens were slaughtered and pregnant women were told to avoid undercooked eggs.
In 1988 Edwina Currie, then a junior health minister, said most egg production in Britain was infected with salmonella. Her comments sparked a public outcry and two weeks later she was forced to resign.
By early 1989 the link between eggs and salmonella poisoning was proved beyond doubt.
However, the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) said it worried that the news could confuse women.
Louise Silverton, director for midwifery at the RCM, said: "We are concerned that media headlines may be confusing for women.
"Whilst this latest evidence from the ACMSF says that the risks are greatly reduced, the FSA continues to recommend that vulnerable groups including pregnant women do not eat raw or lightly cooked eggs, or any food that is uncooked or only lightly cooked and contains raw eggs. The RCM will continue to support this position.
"We await the conclusion of the FSA's consultation and would call for the analysis of the consultation to be done swiftly, to provide clarity and clear guidance for women and other groups about this issue."