Restaurants are Facing an Egg Shortage Thanks to Avian Flu

The outbreak, which spread surprisingly fast, hit farms that produce liquid eggs

Arras, K./the food passionates/Corbis

Since last December, U.S. poultry farmers have been dealing with an outbreak of avian influenza amongst their flocks. The strains involved in this outbreak aren’t known to infect humans, unlike other strains, but they are threatening the egg supply. In particular, restaurants and commercial bakers are feeling the sting as their "liquid egg" product — which comes in buckets — has shot up in price by 240 percent since early May, according to Peggy Lowe for NPR

She reports:

The center of the lethal bird flu outbreak was in Iowa, the country's largest egg-producing state. Most of the 47 million birds killed so far because of the outbreak were part of "breaker" operations, an on-farm process in which chickens lay the eggs, which are then broken, liquefied, frozen or dried.

Lowe spoke to Tony Lordi, the production manager at Judy’s Bakery in Kansas City, Missouri. He read a text from his liquid egg supplier outloud: "He says, 'Very ugly situation headed our way. We ordered 900 buckets of eggs and got 70. They're telling us as of July first, we get zero.' So when my guy that I buy all my eggs from tells me that, what do I do?"

At first, experts thought that the avian flu virus was being spread by migrating waterfowl — specifically by feces carried into chicken barns on workers’ shoes — but now they are also concerned that the viral particles can spread through the air, Robert Roos reports for the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. That might also explain why the disease has spread surprisingly fast.

So far, the supply troubles aren’t translating to a bump in prices for consumers. And experts including Todd Kuethe, an agricultural economist at the University of Illinois, Lowe reports, are hopeful that the worst is over. But it will take months before the flocks can rebuild.  And though the number of cases has waned in recent weeks, the outbreak isn’t over yet.

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