In light of the recent egg recall, people are scrambling to get free-range chickens eggs, thinking they may be safer than those laid by caged hens, but mounting evidence suggests that this may just be a myth spurred by food activists. According to a 1994 study investigating the presence of a specific type of salmonella, the strain was present in 50 percent of free-range hens but found in only 1 percent of caged hens. Additional research of U.S. broilers found no difference in the incidence of salmonella between free-range and caged chickens, further demonstrating that neither form of fowl housing is immune to the spread of bacteria.
Michele Jay-Russel and Michael Payne of the Western Institute for Food Safety and Security, a program of the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California, Davis, advise that egg farmers should be diligent to protect their eggs from contamination regardless of whether they use conventional or free-range chickens.
ACSH's Jeff Stier reminds us that small, organic farms may actually prove to be less safe. “There’s no evidence or reason to believe that free-range eggs are any safer. In fact, larger facilities are the ones that can afford the technology to reduce the risk of contamination and monitor their products.”