Ah, government bureaucracy. Since the discovery in the mid-1980s that table eggs contaminated with the bacteria Salmonella Enteritidis were making thousands of people sick, food regulators and lawmakers have been quibbling over how to address the problem. On July 9, they finally did something about it.

While most of the Obama administration's new food safety rules regarding meat and vegetables are, as the New York Times puts it, “more aspirational than actual,” the egg safety regulations are detailed, with actionable deadlines. The new rules require farmers to buy chicks from suppliers who monitor for Salmonella, to establish pest and rodent control measures that will prevent the spread of bacteria, to conduct testing of poultry houses and, if houses test positive for Salmonella, to test the eggs and either treat them or divert them from the food supply, to clean and disinfect infected poultry houses and to require eggs be refrigerated no later than 36 hours after they are laid and throughout transport. In addition, farmers will be required to register with the FDA and to have a written prevention plan.

Producers with fewer than 3,000 hens and those that sell direct to consumers are exempt from these new rules. That means local producers that you find at Los Angeles Farmers' Markets like Lily's and Happy Family Farms are not required to comply.

Are eggs from small farms less likely to be contaminated?

According to the FDA's report, there is no research to confirm or refute whether shell eggs from small producers were more or less likely to be contaminated. What their findings did show, however, is that more than 4,000 farm sites in the United States have more than 3,000 egg-laying hens, accounting for 99 percent of total egg production in the United States. So the FDA concluded that these small producers did not contribute significantly enough to the table egg market, and that requiring them to comply would have little or no impact on the spread of Salmonella.

Leah Greenstein writes at SpicySaltySweet.com and is the co-author of the Food Blog Code of Ethics.

LA Weekly