By Health Visitor Julia Headland

The UK Government has revised its advice on the safety of eggs for vulnerable groups such as pregnant women, infants and young children, confirming that they are safe to eat ‘runny’ or even raw eggs, provided that they are British Lion Eggs.

Furthermore, the Government’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) has reconfirmed that eggs can be introduced from around 6 months when weaning begins, despite their allergenic potential. In fact, it goes on to suggest that deliberate exclusion or delays in introducing eggs beyond 6-12months may actually increase the risk of egg allergy.

NB. Further clarification is required for those infants with early onset or moderate to severe eczema, considered to be at high risk of food allergy. There is evidence to suggest that introduction to eggs at 4 months is appropriate however please discuss this with your own GP or Health Visitor before you introduce eggs.

Why were we wary of eggs before?

Way back in 1988, the Department of Health advised vulnerable groups of people who may be susceptible to the effects of blood borne disease, including pregnant women, infants and young children, to only consume eggs that had been cooked until both the yolks and the whites were solid (Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food (ACMSF) 1993. You may remember this as the big Salmonella scare of the late 80’S.

So What has changed?

Salmonella was a major public health issue in 1988 when rates of salmonella linked to eggs were shown to be rising due to a new strain of the bacterium Salmonella enteritidis. The bacterium was shown to be located in the body of the egg as opposed to only the egg shell where the previous strain of salmonella had  been located. Due to the reports of contamination, the UK egg industry introduced a range of measures in 1990. In 1998, the introduction of the British Lion Code of Practice (British Egg Industry Council (BEIC), 2013. This thankfully resulted in the decline of Salmonella infection associated with UK eggs.

The core element of this scheme is the vaccination of flocks of laying hens against two strains of Salmonella- Salmonella enteritidis and Salmonella typhimurium. The Lion Code of Practice comprises of over 700 auditable criteria and stringent controls throughout the production chain, including strict hygiene controls in egg production units, stamping of each egg with the best before date and Lion logo and regular egg testing for Salmonella.

*The Lion Code of practice for British Lion Eggs is the only egg-specific assurance scheme to meet the exacting international accreditation standard (International Organisation for Standardisation , 2012)

Nutritional Contribution of Eggs in pregnancy and for babies.

Eggs provide many nutrients essential to foetal development such as high quality protein, vitamin D, vitamin B12, folate, choline, iodine, selenium, and long chain omega-3 fatty acids. They are, in fact, one of the few dietary sources of vitamin D, iodine and choline. They also contribute to important amounts of B vitamins and minerals including some iron and zinc.

Iodine is a nutrient that gets little attention, however according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the UK is classified as mildly iodine insufficient and it has been suggested that iodine is a nutrient of concern for pregnant women. Iodine is essential for adequate maternal thyroid function which is critical for neurodevelopment of the foetus. In fact, there is evidence that suggests that even a mild iodine deficiency is associated with delays in neurocognition later in childhood. Two medium sized eggs provide 50mcg of iodine which represents 36% of the pregnancy reference nutrient intake (RNI).

Choline is a vitamin like compound used to make phospholipids and therefore cell membranes. It is lesser known nutrient but nonetheless important in pregnancy. There is much evidence that choline is important for human foetal development , particularly for the brain.

Vitamin D. Eggs are one of the few dietary sources of vitamin Din it’s most bioavailable form – D3. It is known that there is widespread vitamin D deficiency in the UK, particularly during the winter months due to the limited exposure of UV light in the northern hemisphere. As a consequence, Vitamin D supplementation is advised during pregnancy and lactation and for infants from birth to 1 year who are breastfed or receiving less than 500mls of formula a day and for young children up to 4 years a day (NHS Choices 2017).

As well as supplementation, dietary sources are also important and 2 medium eggs will provide about one third of the recommended nutritional intake for pregnant or lactating women an one medium egg would provide 1.6mcg which is around 23% of the recommended nutritional intake for children of 6 months to 3 years.

Long Chain Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Eggs are also a significant source of long chain omega 3 fatty acids, mostly in the form of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and this is important as DHA is essential for foetal and infant brain development and function. One medium egg contains about 70mg DHA and the adult daily recommended intake is around 450mg.

Summary of Food Standards Agency recommendations on eggs (2017)

*Pregnant women, infants, young children and elderly people can safely eat raw or lightly cooked eggs that are produced under the British Lion Code of practice.

*Non Lion eggs produced in the UK, eggs from outside the UK, and eggs from species other than hens should always be cooked thoroughly for vulnerable groups.*The advice does not apply to severely immunocompromised individuals who require medically supervised diets prescribed by health professionals