Woolworths is moving all eggs into cold storage, prompting shoppers to urge Coles to do the same. Photo: Quinn Rooney Grocery stores are being urged to keep eggs in cold storage to reduce the risk of a salmonella outbreak. Photo: Pat Scala
Eggs are not being kept cool in some stores, as seen in this Box Hill store in Melbourne. Photo: Daniel Pockett
Supermarket giant Coles is under pressure to move eggs off its warm shelves in a bid to protect shoppers from salmonella, matching the practice being rolled out by its main competitor.
Woolworths has pledged to keep eggs in refrigerated cabinets as it continues a nation-wide revamp of its stores.
It is understood dozens of Woolies outlets have had new cabinets installed in the past year, allowing stores to keep fresh eggs chilled below seven degrees, which helps prevent the spread of the harmful salmonella bacteria.
The rollout comes as experts have warned about egg-related salmonella cases, which are on the rise around the country, leading to serious illness and hundreds of hospital admissions each year.
Coles, however, would not disclose if any of its stores would keep eggs refrigerated in response to these calls, prompting shoppers to criticise the company across its social media platforms.
“I will be buying my eggs in Woolworths until you return to displaying them in a chilled area,” one shopper wrote on the company’s Facebook page.
A NSW personal trainer wrote how he had stopped buying eggs from Coles while another shopper pointed out: “It even says on the carton: keep refrigerated.”
The shopper revolt came as another expert joined calls urging stores from large supermarkets to small grocers to be part of an unbroken chain of cold storage for eggs.
Professor Peter Collignon, an infectious diseases expert at n National University’s medical school, said eggs must be treated just like raw meat and kept in a refrigerator at all times.
“I’m always surprised by the lack of anxiety about this,” he said. “We ought to make the product safer, and we do that by refrigerating it, even at the supermarket.”
Coles declined to comment on Sunday.
It had previously released a one-line statement – “Coles adheres to all health and safety regulations regarding egg storage” – and responded to complaints on social media by denying it was an issue. @robbineal we understand Robbi. Refrigerating eggs doesn’t significantly reduce the risk of salmonella.— Coles Supermarkets (@Coles) January 8, 2016
The company, however, did not reply to one customer who asked why Woolworths would then choose to upgrade its stores with refrigerated cabinets. @Coles yes but @Woolworths do and eggs have to be refrigerated in transit so why not complete circuit? #salmonella?— Elizabeth Taylor (@eatay3) January 8, 2016
The salmonella bacteria is spread by birds, usually through faeces, with food safety laws requiring eggs to be washed, inspected for cracks, graded and then kept at cool temperatures at farms and during transport.
But there is no legal requirement to keep eggs in a cool environment at the retail level, and there is no scientific consensus about the need to do so.
Peter Scott, an associate professor at the University of Melbourne’s veterinary school, said keeping eggs chilled in all retail stores would not make a big difference to rising salmonella infection rates.
“For the limited time the eggs are stored at the supermarket unrefrigerated it is, black and white, not significant,” he said.
Dr Scott, who also works as a consultant for the poultry industry, stressed that poor practices at farms, where “dirty eggs” are graded and used when they shouldn’t be, combined with poor food-handling practices, particularly in catering or at restaurants, have been the main culprits behind large outbreaks of the food-borne illness.
“You need two consecutive events: an egg contaminated with salmonella and then the [growth] in a raw egg dish,” he said.
“When [eggs] are made into one of these raw egg products, the replication of salmonella is very dramatic, and that’s where all the food poisoning is coming from.”
Victorian Consumer Affairs Minister Jane Garrett warned shoppers to be careful with egg products in the hot summer months, calling salmonella a “hideous” illness.
“Don’t use food after its use-by date, do refrigerate where the recommendation is to [do so],” she said.