And can you eat European eggs?

By Maxine Builder and Maxine Builder
Updated February 13, 2018
Credit: Photo by John Thys/AFP/Getty Images

At the end of July, a shipment of a million Dutch eggs was stopped at the German border because they were contaminated. And though it sounds dramatic, it's just one part of the massive recall of European eggs that's been sweeping the continent. The situation has only continued to grow over the last month, with tens of millions more eggs either destroyed or pulled from grocery store shelves across the continent. The European egg crisis is so serious that the European Union will be holding an "extraordinary meeting," as reported by the Associated Press, between EU ministers and food safety agencies in September in order to figure out what happened and how to prevent it again.

So what exactly is happening with European eggs right now? And how does it affect you, if at all? Well, here's everything you need to know about the European egg crisis, in an eggshell.

What's Wrong With the Eggs?

The reason some European eggs are being recalled is because they are contaminated with fipronil, a relatively common insecticide that's used to get rid of fleas and ticks on pets. But, as the BBC reports, fipronil is "banned by the European Union for use on animals destined for human consumption," including chickens. That's because the insecticide can be toxic to humans when consumed, causing some pretty nasty symptoms including nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dizziness, and—at worst—epileptic seizures. The World Health Organization has even classified fipronil as a "moderately hazardous pesticide."

Representatives from health agencies across Europe maintain that the levels of fipronil in these eggs are not a serious health hazard, in and of itself, because humans must be exposed to lots of firponil to experience the negative health effects. Instead, the eggs are being removed from grocery stores and supply chains exactly because fipronil is illegal to use on animals destined for human consumption. It is important to note, however, that there is no evidence that any human has gotten sick from eggs contaminated with fipronil.

When and Where Did the Egg Crisis Start?

According to the New York Times, the egg crisis began on July 19 in Belgium, after government officials found eggs contaminated with fipronil, but according to Politico, Belgian and Dutch food safety authorities have been investigating the possible contamination of eggs since mid-June. On August 10, two Dutch men who work for ChickFriend, the Dutch company that allegedly used fipronil at their poultry farms in Belgium, were arrested and accused of playing a major role in this scandal.

People are also freaking out because the number of countries affected keeps growing, which brings us to our next point.

What Countries Are Affected?

As of the publication of this article, this egg contamination scandal, as it's being called in the European press, has affected Switzerland and 15 EU states: Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, France, Sweden, Britain, Austria, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Denmark. It's even made its way to Hong Kong; according to reporting from the Associated Press published by Shanghaiist, "Hong Kong's Centre for Food Safety (CFS) said ... it found two samples of eggs from the Netherlands to have exceeded local fipronil limits."

So ... Can I Eat European Eggs?

If you live in the United States, you're not going to just pick up an egg from Europe at your neighborhood supermarket, so you don't have to worry. But part of what's frustrating for Europeans is that no one really knows the scope of the problem. For example, the UK Food Standards Agency thought only 21,000 eggs were contaminated. It turns out closer to 700,000 eggs imported to the UK from Belgium were affected, and not all of them were raw; some of the contaminated eggs were found in sandwich fillers.

Those are big numbers, but ultimately, the chances of actually getting sick seems to be pretty low. After all, the UK consumes over 10 billion eggs annually, according to data from the British Egg Information Service, of which only about 2 billion are imported. An adult human would also have to eat a lot of eggs to really put themselves at risk. "A 143-pound adult would have to eat more than seven eggs in 24 hours to be at risk, according to Germany's health agency," writes David Schrieberg for Forbes, though he adds that the risk is higher for children. "A 36-pound child could be affected by little more than one-and-a-half eggs in that period."

So maybe keep the kids away from eggs for the time being if you've got plans to go to Europe—and don't try to eat a dozen European eggs in one sitting.