Assessing the feasibility of making egg powder at rural community level for improved household food security.
Limited knowledge of egg storage and preservation methods has led to the underutilisation of eggs in rural communities, and yet if rural communities could process the eggs into powder as is commercially done, their food security could improve. Processing the eggs into egg powder by sun-drying seems an economically appropriate technology for rural communities, but could negatively impact on the quality and safety of the eggs and as such should be assessed. This study was carried out in the area of Impendle in KwaZulu-Natal Province of South Africa to investigate the feasibility of making egg powder at rural community level. The study investigated consumer perceptions on egg consumption and use, their storage and preservation methods used on eggs locally, as well as consumer knowledge on current egg preservation technologies being used in food manufacturing industries. The results of the study indicated that rural households regarded eggs as nutritious food that forms part of the household monthly food basket. Nonetheless, egg consumption is still subjected to cultural beliefs. The study also revealed an interest in consuming indigenous eggs, but challenges such as inconsistent supply, losses associated with deterioration and predators were noted as the primary barriers. Due to these barriers the community of Impendle mainly consumes commercial eggs. The disadvantages noted with the purchasing of eggs are affordability, perishability; and limited access to egg retailers. The study further investigated the effects of sun drying and oven drying of eggs in a home setup. A sample of eggs was sun-dried and another oven-dried into powder. The microbiological quality and safety of the egg powders were assessed against an egg (control) using standard methods. Sun dried eggs had the flavour of the fresh eggs, but had a darker colour than that of fresh eggs. After 16 days, the sun dried eggs had a rancid flavour. The oven dried eggs had a cooked flavour and their colour closely resembled that of sun dried eggs. These egg powders did not show signs of physical deterioration over a period of eight weeks. Microbiological analysis results showed that the egg powders met the standards for egg quality and safety as indicated by their levels of Salmonella spp., E. coli, Coliforms, Listeria monocytogenes, and Total Plate Count. The acceptance of egg powder by the rural community was determined by sensory evaluation and focus group discussions. A 63-member consumer panel recruited from the study rural community assessed the sensory acceptability of a scrambled commercial egg powder compared to a scrambled fresh egg on 5-point facial Hedonic scale, 1= very bad; 5= very good. Focus group discussions were conducted to investigate the perceptions of the local rural community about the consumption of egg powder. Focus groups consisted of eight to 12 people drawn from the egg consumption/questionnaire survey participants. The findings showed that the participants could tell the difference between the fresh egg and egg powder in terms of colour and flavour; the flavour of the fresh egg was more acceptable to the panellists than that of the egg powder. With regard to taste, the consumers liked both eggs. Although the focus group panellists indicated that it was their first experience with egg powder as a food item, they generally had positive perceptions about it and thereby showed an eagerness and willingness to learn about egg powder and to use the egg powder technology for improving their food security. This study shows that eggs are a common and significant food source for the rural community of Impendle. However, this community faces challenges in the utilisation of eggs due to their perishability, which is confounded by their little knowledge on egg storage and preservation, and a limited access to egg retailers. The findings of this study suggest that processing eggs into powder could be a successful preservation method at rural community level, which could improve household food security. If done under hygienic conditions as in this study, the egg powder would be of acceptable microbiological quality safety for human consumption. The study was limited to a small sample of the rural community of Impendle and the study participants did not practically try the technology of processing egg into powder by sun-drying; further studies should, among other issues, address these before attempting to roll out the technology.