Australian Pasteurised Eggs commercial director Geoff Sondergeld.
Australian Pasteurised Eggs commercial director Geoff Sondergeld.

Egg-cellent innovation: Half a million whole eggs a day

AUSTRALIA'S first egg in shell pasteurisation facility has opened on the Darling Downs amid growing concern about food-borne illnesses.

Australian Pasteurised Eggs has invested $20 million in the plant west of Toowoomba capable of processing half a million whole eggs each day.

The $829 million egg industry has been dented in recent years from several outbreaks of salmonella linked to the poor handling of unpasteurised raw eggs.

More than 20 people were struck down with suspected salmonella poisoning earlier this year linked to eggs from a New South Wales farm.

Australian Pasteurised Eggs commercial director Geoff Sondergeld said the company already was supplying aged care homes such as those operated by Aveo, allowing the elderly to enjoy a more varied diet.

Previously aged care homes would avoid using raw eggs or soft-boiled eggs because of concerns about food poisoning. Pasteurised eggs are also being supplied to airlines for first class and business class customers.

"Dieticians now recommend the regular consumption of eggs as part of a healthy diet," said Mr Sondergeld, a former executive at dairy group Queensco and Coca Cola Amatil. "But food borne illnesses are on the rise and part of the cause of that has been the mishandling of eggs. Chefs like to crack eggs to make their sauces or for other dishes. But health and aged care regulators have not previously encouraged the use of raw eggs.

"Providing a safe version of the product has meant someone in an aged care facility is able to enjoy a soft-boiled egg with soldiers."

Mr Sondergeld said that 90 per cent of hospitals in the US now used pasteurised eggs as a way of mitigating the risk of food poisoning. The technology used by the company is licensed from US-based Michael Foods and each egg is stamped with a P Symbol, indicating the egg has undergone the in-shell pasteurisation process.

"The litigation environment is changing and the onus is on companies to provide safe food," he said.

"Basically we are taking the risk out for the rest of the supply chain. Australia has the highest incidence of food borne illnesses in the world but eggs remain a fundamental form of protein in this country."


Aveo national food services manager and executive chef John Casey (left) and Geoff Sondergeld of Australian Pasteurised Eggs.
Aveo national food services manager and executive chef John Casey (left) and Geoff Sondergeld of Australian Pasteurised Eggs.


Mr Sondergeld said people were comfortable with the pasteurisation process, with milk and related products a well-established pasteurised product.

While reluctant to discuss details of the process as it applied to eggs, he said it involved "heat and time".

"It is basically a big saucepan (where the eggs are processed)," he said, pointing to large rectangular vat in the centre of the facility.

He said eventually the company planned to supply pasteurised eggs to supermarkets and hotel chains.

"There will be a push by consumers for the product," he said. "In the US it started with pregnant women who wanted pasteurised eggs."

An added advantage was that pasteurised eggs had a shelf life of 90 days as opposed to only 42 for non-pasteurised varieties.

He said an in-house laboratory tested the eggs to ensure they meet World Health Organisation standards for pasteurisation. He said 99.9 per cent of bacteria was removed during the process without affecting the quality of the product.

By way of example, Mr Sondergeld cracked open a pasteurised egg in the factory near the Wellcamp International Airport to show the appearance and texture of white and yolk was unaffected by the process.

Aveo national food services manager and executive chef John Casey said the eggs retained the taste, texture, appearance and nutritional value of non-pasteurised shell eggs.

"It is providing our residents with a variety of dishes previously unavailable in this sector," Mr Casey said. "As a chef it is very exciting."

IBISWorld senior industry analyst Nathan Cloutman said pasteurised eggs were more commonly used in food-service industries than with the general consumers, with restaurants and cafes more likely to use them to reduce the risk of salmonella poisoning for customers. However, as raw food diets become increasingly popular, pasteurised eggs were expected to become more popular.

"It is expected that more pasteurised egg products will arrive on supermarket shelves, as many consumers would not want to take the risk of salmonella poisoning," Mr Cloutman said.