Unless you have no need for eggs in your life, you will have felt the impact of South Africa’s severe egg shortage. You have probably hunted high and low for eggs just to find that all the shops are out of stock and if you are lucky enough to find a box, you’ll pay an arm and a leg for them – on average between R105 and R130 for a tray of 30 eggs. It honestly feels like eggs have become our most precious commodity.
So, why are there no eggs?
The main cause of this crisis is the widespread outbreak of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI), a deadly and highly contagious bird flu, which has forced the culling of over 7-million egg-laying chickens. This grim statistic accounts for roughly 20-30% of the country’s entire chicken stock, as reported by the South African Poultry Association (SAPA).
The ripple effect of this egg shortage is significant. Not only are consumers paying more for eggs, but the surging egg prices are also impacting various other food products where eggs and other poultry items are crucial ingredients. Businesses involved in the food sector, as a whole, are also feeling the pinch.
In a recent trading update, leading South African poultry producer Astral Foods revealed that the outbreak has already come at a massive monetary cost and the virus has spread at an alarming rate, causing absolute havoc in the poultry industry. In fact, experts have warned that we may soon be facing a shortage of chicken meat over the next few months. This isn’t good news since chicken is one of South Africa’s more affordable meats.
“Experts estimate that it could take six months for the poultry sector to replace the chickens that were culled due to the avian flu…”
How long until the shortage ends?
Experts estimate that it could take six months for the poultry sector to replace the chickens that were culled due to the avian flu and even longer for the industry to make a full recovery. This means that the shortage of poultry products will extend into 2024.
In response to the egg scarcity, SAPA is diverting table eggs from industrial customers and bakeries to retail shelves. Additionally, the association is looking into liquid and powder eggs as an alternative for large-scale bakeries. This will ensure a more consistent supply of table eggs to grocery stores and it’s for this reason we’re still occasionally finding eggs when we go shopping.
As South Africa comes to terms with the shortage of eggs and potentially chicken meat, too, we should start finding ways to live without these items in our own homes for a while.
“The ripple effect of this egg shortage is significant.
Here’s how we can make do
Whether we like eating eggs or not, we cannot get away from the fact that we use them for other reasons, too. For starters, they are an important ingredient when baking and eggs are used as ingredients in other grocery products, too. It is therefore essential to explore alternatives to eggs in cooking while we are stuck in this food crisis.
Here are some substitutes that can be used in recipes:
Plant-based egg substitutes for baking: Mashed bananas and applesauce (you can use Purity baby food) should be your first go-to when baking as they are accessible, affordable and make great binding agents. Vinegar and baking soda can also be used to mimic the fluffiness of eggs that is normally required when you want a light and fluffy texture to your baking. The vinegar and baking soda bubble and cause aeration when mixed.
Plant-based egg substitutes for cooking: Ingredients like tofu, which can be found in most supermarkets and Asian shops, and commercial egg replacers (yolk powder can be found at some spice shops) are good alternatives when you need to add a specific flavour or texture to your cooking.
Yogurt & buttermilk: In certain recipes, you can use yogurt or buttermilk to achieve a similar texture and moisture content. Buttermilk offers better value for money, but yogurt contains the live cultures which are so important for our gut health.
Aquafaba: This is the liquid from canned chickpeas which can be whipped into a foam and used as an egg white substitute in many recipes. Be warned though, this liquid takes longer to whip into a foam than egg whites.
While these egg alternatives can help bridge the gap during this shortage, it’s important to support South African poultry farmers and the industry as they work to combat the avian flu and rebuild their flocks. Eggs are also extremely nutritious and when available are an excellent and affordable source of protein.
Is it safe to eat eggs and chicken right now?
For those fortunate enough to find eggs on store shelves, authorities have assured the public that chicken products are safe for consumption despite the ongoing outbreak.
However, as consumers we should always responsibly follow food safety guidelines when it comes to eating eggs and poultry, such as checking the “Best Before” or expiry date, and never eating chicken meat that hasn’t been properly cooked.
In conclusion, the egg shortage in South Africa is a pressing issue with far-reaching consequences for both consumers and businesses. While we navigate these challenging times, it’s crucial to adapt by using egg substitutes when we cook and support local poultry farmers as they strive to recover from the impact of HPAI. Together, we can overcome this crisis.