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ARS Home » Southeast Area » Athens, Georgia » U.S. National Poultry Research Center » Egg and Poultry Production Safety Research Unit » Research » Research Project #438593

Research Project: Reducing Pathogen Contamination Risks and Improving Quality Attributes of Eggs and Egg Products through Housing System Management and Egg Handling Practices

Location: Egg and Poultry Production Safety Research Unit

Project Number: 6040-32420-003-000-D
Project Type: In-House Appropriated

Start Date: Jan 19, 2021
End Date: Jan 18, 2026

1. Evaluate the impact of flock management strategies in cage-free and other hen housing systems on pathogen transmission and prevalence and egg microbial, physical and functional quality. 1.a. Ascertain the impact of laying hen flock management strategies on the vertical and horizontal transmission of pathogens. 1.b. Determine the influence of laying hen flock management strategies on egg microbiology and quality. 1.c. Assess the impact of egg handling practices on consumer product safety and quality. 2. Evaluate the impact of pullet rearing practices on pathogen transmission and prevalence and resulting egg microbial, physical, and functional quality. 2.a. Determine the transmission and persistence of pathogens in pullets reared under various housing practices. 2.b. Assess the prevalence of pathogens during the pullet phase under various commercial cage-free pullet management programs and resulting egg microbiology and quality. 2.c. Ascertain the influence of egg handling practices on consumer product safety and quality from hens reared under a variety commercial cage-free housing systems.

The starting point for this research program will be to determine the effects of cage-free housing systems for laying hens and cage-free pullet rearing programs, under U.S. commercial production conditions, on the prevalence of food-borne pathogens in flocks and the production environment and on the microbial, physical, and functional quality of eggs and egg products. These studies will generate a unique and comprehensive assessment of the environmental and management risk factors associated with cage-free egg production systems. This baseline information will then be applied in combination with collaborators’ data about housing conditions and management practices with the greatest potential significance as targets for risk mitigation. The output of this two-stage strategy will be a research-based guide of best management practices for extensive housing systems for the egg industry to maintain high standards of egg safety and quality. These guidelines will also allow the egg industry to make informed management decisions, based on definitive scientific data about the associated risk of individual practices, to effectively manage extensive housing systems, conduct housing sanitation, test to detect environmental contamination, reduce flock infection, and enhance processing facility sanitation. State and federal regulatory agencies will also be able to apply these guidelines to protect public health by reassessing current standards to ensure that safe, wholesome eggs and egg products reach consumers. Through collaboration with university extension personnel, outreach programs will be developed for large and small-scale cage-free egg producers.