A new survey has revealed that poor egg-handling practices in restaurants and takeaways could be putting UK consumers at risk of food poisoning.

The Health Protection Agency and LACORS (Local Authorities Coordinators of Regulatory Services) jointly investigated the incidence of Salmonella contamination in egg mixes and evaluated hygiene practices.

Although the study revealed low levels of salmonella contamination in egg mix samples (0.13%), 14% of takeaways were not aware of key food safety practices for the use of egg mixes. Worryingly, 43% of staff did not wash and dry hands after handling eggs and egg mixes and 41% did not refrigerate egg mixes properly.

It also found that 40% of caterers did not use designated utensils when handling egg mixes and 17% did not clean surfaces and utensils thoroughly after they had been used with egg mixes.

Jim McLauchlin director of the Food, Water and Environmental Microbiology Service of the HPA said: “While it is encouraging that low levels of salmonella were found by our researchers, the study shows poor storage and handling practices of egg mixes by catering businesses.

“There are numerous risk factors involved in mixing and pooling large volumes of eggs by the catering industry which can lead to food poisoning. Just one egg infected with salmonella can contaminate a whole batch, and the risk of infection is increased if it is stored in a warm kitchen environment.

“Therefore, it is extremely important that caterers establish and maintain a food safety management system,” said Dr McLauchlin.

The study involved taking samples from 934 catering establishments, including restaurants, takeaways, bakeries, cafés and sandwich bars between May and October 2008 in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.