The E.U. is on high alert after eggs were found to be contaminated with insecticide.

By Jillian Kramer
Updated August 09, 2017
Marcel Kusch / Getty Images

Millions of European eggs might have been contaminated with a harmful insecticide, prompting grocery stores across the continent to clear their shelves and restaurants to temporarily rethink their brunch menus. So here's the scoop on what's going on.

In recent weeks, authorities found high levels of fipronil—an insecticide commonly used in veterinary products to treat fleas and ticks but banned from use in animals earmarked for human consumption—in eggs across Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany. But as those countries scrambled to recall the contaminated eggs, some may have shipped to other countries—the U.K., France, Sweden, and Switzerland.

On Monday, the European Commission urged those countries to check for the eggs.

How did such a widespread contamination happen? Authorities say the insecticide may have been mixed with a cleaning agent used at chicken farms. (Note: cleaning agents aren't used directly on eggs in Europe, where it's actually forbidden to wash eggs. In the U.S., eggs are treated with cleaning products to prevent the spread of salmonella and other bacteria. That's why we refrigerate eggs and Europe doesn't.)

The insecticide appears to have come from a supplier in the Netherlands, according to reports; some authorities say the contamination is a criminal act against consumers.

Tests of chicken droppings, blood, and eggs themselves revealed the contamination.

Belgian regulators announced the contamination on July 19, and affected countries have been working to destroy the eggs ever since. Dutch hens have also been culled. Nine million chickens from about 180 farms were affected, the New York Times says.

If ingested, fipronil can damage the liver, thyroid glands, and kidneys over time. But according to the European Commission, the risk to consumers (now) is very low. "The eggs are blocked," spokeswoman Anna-Kaisa Itkonen said. "The eggs have been traced and withdrawn from the market and the situation is under control."