Happy Chickens Make Happy Eggs

The common wisdom in the local food movement is that eggs collected from happy chickens–happy because they have the chance to peck at the green grass, eat grubs, and breathe fresh air–are better. Their deep yellow yolks look better and taste more creamy, less sulphurous–better. And that these chickens are not only happier, but healthier. I was forced to question these assumptions when my kid’s daycare returned the used egg carton I’d sent in for the class to use in their pretend store. The director of the daycare worried that it could carry salmonella. I was about to say, “Well, not from my happy eggs,” but then realized that I couldn’t say for sure that the eggs I buy from a farmer who keeps his chickens outdoors are, in fact, better.

This summer’s salmonella outbreak in eggs from industrial chickens in the United States proved the severity of the contagion and the importance of the food safety regulations that work to keep us safe. But are industrial chickens more likely to carry salmonella? Apparently, the answer is yes.

There have been a handful of studies that show that large commercial flocks are more susceptible to salmonella outbreaks.  (For the keen reader, here’s a link to a bibliography on this topic.) For the rest of us, there was a great article in The Atlantic’s Food Channel by writer Barry Estabrook who keeps his own chickens. After criticizing the industrial poultry practices, a reader challenged him to test his own eggs, sure they would show that they’d be contaminated too. Well, his eggs were clear and the experts he consulted linked this to the fact that his hens are happy.

So, it’s true! Happy chickens make happy eggs. I will continue to make chocolate mousse, meringue and other such delicious desserts with my farmer’s eggs. The daycare might not feel comfortable letting the kids play with my old cartons, but I can at least spread the word that my eggs are better.

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