Raising backyard chickens is a defining hobby of California’s urban farmsteaders. Foodies praise the golden yolks of eggs laid by hens who roam freely and scratch the soil for grubs.
But after the devastating fires in Northern and Southern California last fall, that backyard chicken scratching struck Maurice Pitesky as a potential food safety concern.
Pitesky, a veterinarian on the faculty at UC Davis who studies poultry health and food safety, reminded that “backyard chickens are eating off the ground all the time.” That means the birds and the eggs they produce are a function of the environment they live in.
As fires blazed through Sonoma and Ventura counties, all kinds of materials went up in flames, notes Pitesky, like computers, office furniture, chemicals, transformer fluids and roofing materials.
Did harmful chemicals end up in backyard chicken eggs?
To find out, researchers at UC Davis and University of California’s Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources have launched a project to test thousands of eggs from all over the state for possible fire contamination.
Scientists will also add eggs from conventional and non-conventional commercial producers to the study for comparison. Once testing is complete later this year, they’ll compare the results against CalFire maps of last year’s fires and Superfund location sites throughout the state. The eggs will also be tested for heavy metal contamination.
If anything is found, Pitesky says the researchers will issue food safety guidelines for communities raising backyard chickens in those areas.
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