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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Professor develops egg sanitization machine

An egg-sanitizing machine with the potential to provide the poultry industry with an increase in viable chicks has been invented by A&M researcher Craig Coufal, and is undergoing the final trials before it enters commercial markets.
Coufal, assistant professor and extension specialist of poultry science, said every egg laid by a chicken has bacteria on the shell. The natural defenses of the egg should keep bacteria from invading. Bacteria that does reach the interior of the egg can cause rotting, an aborted embryo or a deformed chick.
“Ninety-nine percent of the time the natural barriers work,” Coufal said. “But one percent of eggs become rotten or do not hatch because the bacteria invade them.”
Most of the modern poultry industry does not engage in any egg sanitation methods because of the cost of and toxicity of the chemicals used. Coufal said even though relying on natural defenses works 99 percent of the time, one percent can add up on a large commercial scale.
“But when you are talking about millions of eggs – one percent is a lot.” Coufal said. “If we can reduce it by half, that would be a lot.”
Coufal’s research is in part motivated to increase the number of viable eggs, but he said the main research purpose is to keep the hatchery environment as sanitized
as possible.
“I kind of think the hatchery is like the hospital. There are all these chicks being hatched there, kind of like babies are being born in hospitals,” Coufal said. “You want to keep the environment for these newborn babies – these little chicks coming out of shell – as clean as possible so that they do not get infected.”
Coufal said the chicks produced by the hatchery are healthier, cleaner, and will grow and live longer if the hatchery environment is as sanitized as possible.
Coufal began his research in 2007 to sanitize eggs effectively and eventually discovered a combination of UV light and hydrogen peroxide worked in a laboratory setting.
He said the researchers continuously modify the process.
“We are trying to figure out how to apply the hydrogen peroxide in a mechanized manner,” Coufal said. “We are trying to determine, ‘What are the parameters that optimize the treatment process?’ And, “How do we build a machine to replicate those optimized parameters?'”
In February 2012, Coufal and his graduate students built their first prototype.
“It was not fancy,but it did what we needed it to do,” Coufal said.
Nathan Fuchs, poultry science graduate student, said the prototype is effective in reducing the number of bacteria on the eggs.
Coufal said the technology could have been ineffective if the natural defense mechanisms of the egg were also damaged, but said there was no significant difference found in embryo mortality though.
Engineer William Love, Class of 2009, took Coufal’s prototype and built the first commercial version of the egg-sanitizing machine in 2013.
“The machine was designed with the intent of being user friendly as well as user safe.” William said. “And I would say that the machine should be very durable given the environment it is being used in.”
Coufal said he and his research team are collaborating with a commercial farm to conduct a field trial of the machine.
“They are treating thousands of eggs per day with the machine, and they are going to track how many rotten eggs they get through the hatchery over a course of several months,” Coufal said. “Hopefully, over about, a six- month period, they are going to generate a very large data set, proving its efficacy.”
Depending on the field trial data, Coufal estimated his machine will be ready for commercialization within the next year.
“Once we get that information and we are satisfied that it is going to work in a commercial setting as it should, then we will be ready to commercially mass produce,” Coufal said.

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