Preventing Salmonella Problems in Backyard Chickens

Every now and then a story comes up about sickness from and recalls of eggs because of salmonella contamination.  Salmonella is a serious issue, but one that can be easily managed or prevented in the home flock.

Preventing Salmonella Contamination

Only chickens that are infected with salmonella can lay eggs containing salmonella, though it is possibly for eggs to be permeated and infected after the fact in their environment (such as by the feces of other chickens, etc.).  Eggs produced by well-kept backyard flocks should tend to be safer than those produced by factory farms.  Many of the problems that tend to cause the large-scale factory farm egg producers to have problems with salmonella can be easily managed or prevented in a home flock. Here are some of those concerns and how they relate to factory farms operations and backyard flocks.

Factory Farms Backyard Flocks
The close quarters the chickens are kept in make transmission between chickens a near certainty. Cage free conditions where the chickens are free to move around and have access to fresh air reduce incidents of contamination.
Improper cleaning practices can lead to transmission from one flock to another later kept in the same space. A proper cleaning regimen, and appropriate flock rotation reduce these risks.
Increased stress and poor diet weaken a chicken’s immune system. Better nutrition from foraging, fresh kitchen and garden scraps, and high-quality feeds, along with higher levels of activity and socialization (from not being in cages) keep chickens healthier.
Pests such as rodents or insects can spread bacteria. Pests tend to be less of a problem to smaller flocks, but more detailed and more frequent observation of a home flock to detect pests reduces this risk.
Contaminated chicken feed can spread salmonella. The large quantities used in commercial operations provide financial incentive to risk feeding potentially contaminated feed rather than discarding it. Feed bought in smaller quantities and properly stored will keep your chickens healthy.

For more information about backyard egg production safety, here is an article about safe egg handling from the Washington State Department of Health.

Managing Salmonella Risk

Of course, no matter how careful you are, there’s really no convenient way to be positive an egg doesn’t have salmonella.  So, what happens if an egg is contaminated?  Well, usually nothing.

A healthy human immune system can fight off some salmonella on its own.  Most illness from salmonella occurs from high levels of exposure, or among young children, the elderly, and the immunocompromised (including those with auto-immune disorders, or those already fighting another illness or infection).

A properly prepared egg, one that is cooked thoroughly or otherwise prepared in a manner recognized as safe, should prove no risk, even if very contaminated.  To reduce your risk of salmonella poisoning always cook your eggs thoroughly (no runny yolks), or carefully follow an approved recipe that is known to be safe.

If you simply must have your eggs over-easy or need an egg in your protein shake, make sure to buy the highest quality eggs you can, or produce them yourself with a backyard flock.  Make sure the eggs have been refrigerated consistently, since any present salmonella bacteria will multiply within the egg at a much slower rate than if left out.  If the eggs are from your backyard flock, make sure to only use the freshest, cleanest eggs for these uses.


We are not qualified to give nutrition or medical advice of this nature, please do not consider this as such.  This information is intended only for informational purposes.  Please research this information for yourself and form your own conclusions.

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