The latest food scare - the contamination of British eggs with the cancer causing chemical dioxin - can be linked to our reliance on complex food chains and industrial production methods, report Joanna Blythman and Tom Levitt.
When you read the word 'eggs' on an ingredient listing, it doesnâ€™t start a red light flashing. And why should it? Most people assume that any eggs used are British. We envisage careful employees, working in a small, clean factory with a daily supply of nice, fresh eggs from nearby happy hens, patiently cracking eggs as required for each new production batch.
If only that was the case. The latest food scare over dioxin-containing eggs illustrates how even apparently straightforward ingredients used in processed foods are often not what they seem. In fact, they are a wriggling can of worms. We now learn that it is standard practice in the food industry to use a product known as liquid pasteurised egg. What is this exactly? You will be forgiven for not being entirely sure because it's not something you'll have in your domestic larder.
What happens is that producers of eggs, usually from caged, factory-farmed hens, sell their eggs to a company that shells them and subjects them to a very high heat. This process kills off any potentially harmful food poisoning bacteria, so it may sound like a good thing, but it isn't, because the heat also destroys several of the vitamins that make eggs so nutritious.
In truth, the real reason for this treatment is not public health, but manufacturers' convenience and profit. Once pasteurised, the eggs are transformed into a long-life product, like sterilised milk, that can be stored at room temperature for use by them over a period of months, or even years. To be fair to manufacturers, they are under pressure from the food hygiene establishment to use this denatured ingredient, since the regulations governing the use of fresh, raw eggs are so absurdly demanding and strict that they act as a disincentive to use them.