Janesville64.3°

Egg recall doesn’t change habits of many consumers

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Catherine W. Idzerda
August 29, 2010
— If poultry could speak, the hens at the Van De Boom farm would probably be saying, “wooo hooooo!”

No one could blame them.


Every morning, the doors of their spacious roost open and they pour out into the sunshine for a day of pecking at grass and delicious, delicious bugs. They can go anywhere they want—it’s usually not more than 300 feet—and there’s always clean water and food.


Consumers might not care about chicken happiness, but they probably do care about chicken health.


Earlier this month, more than 500 million eggs were recalled because of their connection to hundreds of cases of salmonella.


Many of the eggs were linked to large confinement farms in Iowa.


As usual, the scare has consumers wondering—at least temporarily—if it might be a good idea to be more careful about where their food comes from.


“I’ve been getting phone calls for eggs,” said Bob Van De Boom who runs the farm with his wife, Barb. “But it’s the scare now.”


The same thing happened after the release of “Food, Inc.,” the 2008 documentary that was critical of corporate farming techniques.


The Van De Booms have regular customers who buy as many as 15 dozen eggs every two to three weeks, and those eggs are set aside first. The heat and humidity early in August meant egg production is down, and it’s not a wise investment to buy laying hens for customers who might lose interest.


And the eggs are really an offshoot of their business, a kind of shopping convenience for their beef, lamb, turkey and meat customers, said Barb.


The farm gets most of its business from word-of-mouth recommendations and its website, vdbfarms.squarespace.com.


Both Bob and Barb believe that the way the animals are treated and what they are fed make a difference in the health of animals and the taste of finished product.


“All my feed is certified organic, there’s no petroleum byproducts,” said Bob.


For example, the beef from the farm’s Murray Grey cattle tends to be much richer. And most consumers know that truly fresh eggs have yolks that hold their shape instead of flattening out.


Ironically, some of the techniques large egg producers use to create product uniformity can lead to problems. For example, when chickens lay eggs they are coated with a “bloom” to keeps bacteria from entering through the eggshell.


In larger operations, eggs go directly from the chicken to a processing area where they are washed of any residue—and that process takes the bloom off the eggs. Also, because modern consumers want egg yolks to be a consistent color, producers sometimes use feed additives to achieve that look.


At Van De Booms, only eggs that are really dirty get washed. And their customers are used to some variations in yolks.


At Basics Cooperative, Janesville, all the eggs they sell come from free-range chickens, said Jimmy McPherson, the staff person who orders the eggs.


The store buys eggs from a variety of local producers including Sashay Acres, Evansville; KD Farms, Whitewater and Wellnitz Eggs in Janesville.


The eggs have been selling slightly better lately, but McPherson said it might because of the “eat local” challenge that started Aug. 15.



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