None can question the palatable delights that are hidden with the confines of an egg. However, the tiny microorganisms that could be possibly residing on the shell can cause serious illnesses. Now scientists from Russia have developed an innovative and cost-effective disinfection technology utilizing electron beams to sterilize the surface of packaged eggs without affecting their nutritive properties.

"Disinfection of the packed eggs protects eggs from subsequent contamination during storage," said Prof. Sergey Sokovnin, author of the study from Ural Federal University and Ural Branch of Russian Academy of Science, in a statement. In addition to destroying disease-causing pathogens such as the Salmonella bacteria that are found on eggshells, the method also promotes the growth of broiler chicken (hatching from disinfected eggs) that are equipped with improved resistance to viral diseases.

Fatal Bacteria on Eggshells

The most common form of food poisoning through eggs is caused by the dreaded Salmonella bacteria which can wreak havoc on the health of those with weaker immunity such as children and people above the age of 65. Also, individuals with conditions such as diabetes, HIV, and organ transplant recipients—who have frail immune systems—can suffer life-threatening illnesses due to the bacteria. 

Eggs (Representational Picture)Pixabay

Studies have also demonstrated that Salmonella can lead to the decline of the quality of eggshells. Therefore, effective decontamination is crucial. There are several methods of disinfecting eggs such as the use of moist heat, dry heat, chemicals, and radiation, among others. However, some of these processes lead to the loss or damage of nutrients.

Irradiating Eggs with Electrons

For the study, the researchers utilized an electron accelerator known as a URT-0.5 accelerator to irradiate eggs that were packed in plastic containers. The packed eggs were exposed to 50 nanoseconds (one billionth of a second) electron beam. It was found that the treatment sterilized the eggs did not affect their attributes in any manner.

"We found out that 5 kGy is enough for disinfection. Such dose allows to disinfect container and eggshells but does not affect the physical properties of the protein, yolk, and shell, or their composition. The size of the eggs does not matter," said Prof. Sergey Sokovnin, author of the study.    

Chick (Representational Picture)Pixabay

Also, the process did not affect the volume of the chicks emerging from the disinfected eggs or the quality of their meat later on. In fact, these chickens were found to be more resistant to viral infections such as Newcastle disease.

"86 percent of chickens from untreated eggs show signs of chronic inflammation. In chickens from irradiated eggs, this figure reached only 4 percent", stated Prof. Sokovnin. He also emphasized that healthy chickens born from such sterilized eggs will lead to a significant reduction in the dosage of antibiotics given to them during their growth.

Economical and Time-saving

According to Prof. Sokovnin, the new technology can serve as a boon for industrial manufacturers as it can save time and reduce production costs. This is important as decontaminated eggs take only 16-18 hours to hatch; 6 hours lesser than unsterilized ones that hatch in 22-24 hours.

"The accelerator capacity is 108 million eggs per year, which is enough for a large poultry farm. It permits irradiation up to 40 eggs per second. The cost of irradiation of plastic packaging for 10 eggs was 1.2 Eurocents," the author highlighted.

Eggs (Representational Picture)Reuters

Simply put, if a production line with the new technology operated in just one shift for 250 days a year, the investment on it can be recovered in approximately five years. The primary expenses would overhead costs, equipment costs, and staff salaries, according to Prof. Sokovnin.

Furthermore, the study also stated the implementation of the new technology will present no major technical obstacles. Its compact size makes its integration with control and packaging lines in poultry farms easy. According to the researchers, the surfaces of eggs of other avians can also be disinfected by employing the new method.