The U.S. poultry industry grows around 9 billion eggs to produce chicks that will generate billions of pounds of poultry every year. Dr. Craig Coufal, a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service poultry specialist, believes he has an egg-sanitizer machine that may revolutionize the poultry industry. This is a second-generation machine built from his original design and manufactured by a local College Station fabricator.
According to Coufal, broiler chick eggs are not generally washed. This results in a one percent or more loss of chicks due to bacterial penetration, which causes the egg to go bad, embryos to abort, or a malformed chick to emerge. A one percent loss may seem inconsequential, however, when one does the math it turns out that one percent of 9 billion means that around 90 million chicks will be lost.
Given the highly competitive nature of the industry and the resulting thin margins, the profit per chick is not much more than a penny or so. If the one percent loss could be cut in half, that would present producers with substantial savings.
When a hen lays an egg, it is naturally coated with a waxy material referred to as the cuticle. This cuticle is important for sealing the pores in the shell for the first week and aids in preventing bacterial infiltration. Once the embryo needs to breath (take in oxygen and remove carbon dioxide), the waxy coat begins to disintegrate to allow for gas exchange.
Eggs that are consumed are cleaned by producers with detergents and water heated to 110 to 120 degrees F. This sanitizes the eggs without changing the taste or nutritional value, however, it damages the waxy cuticle. According to Coufal, “The breeder part of the poultry industry does not want hatchery eggs to even get wet as it is believed that may aid bacteria to enter the pores and may actually increase the number of rotten eggs during incubation”.
To resolve this issue, Coufal and his colleagues have come up with a machine that can sanitize eggs cheaply and quickly without leaving any residues (like detergent) that would weaken the cuticle. Moreover, it allows the embryo to develop normally. This machine is set up to spray eggs with hydrogen peroxide followed by exposure to bacterial lysing UV light.
Earlier experiments done by Coufal found that neither treatment alone had the ability to kill bacteria, however, used in combination, the treatments rendered the eggs bacteria-free. It turns out that UV light exposure turns hydrogen peroxide in hydroxide ions. It is the hydroxide ions that are responsible for sterilization. The nice thing about this is that there are no toxic chemicals left behind and no apparent damage to the cuticle.
The next step is to work with a local hatchery to measure how effective this sanitization process is in reducing egg losses.