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I was watching a documentary about border control at an airport. One woman was carrying prohibited foods. The relevant part of the original sentence is as follows:

This woman ... has been caught with fresh fruit and other prohibited food items including high risk eggs, but the bio officers ... [something about bio officers not understanding the woman's reaction].

How would you interpret the 'high risk egg' part?
A. the whole egg category is high-risk
B. it refers to a specific type of 'high-risk' eggs
C. either of the above

I am not searching for answers about import regulations. What I'm interested in is whether native speakers have a preferred interpretation for this sentence.

Unless the reading is related to prior knowledge -- would you have a different reading if it's not eggs? What if it's beef? Broccoli? Does it make a difference?

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    Given the very limited context, it's not possible to say with any certainty. Commented Feb 6 at 10:47
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    If you genuinely want an answer, it should be easy to find food import rules for the country under question. It's hard to see why some eggs should be high risk and others not (probably related to country of origin rather than type of egg, because different countries have different rules for egg production) but this is way outside the scope of English SE.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Feb 6 at 10:50
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    High-risk Foods - Raw or undercooked foods, e.g. meat, poultry, seafood and eggs, are high-risk foods, as there is no or inadequate heat treatment to eliminate the microorganisms present that can pose risks to human health. cfs.gov.hk/english/whatsnew/whatsnew_act/….
    – Gio
    Commented Feb 6 at 10:54
  • Thanks for your comment Stuart, but what I'm interested in is whether native speakers have a preferred interpretation for this sentence, not really about the rules. It doesn't have to be eggs -- unless you're saying the interpretation depends on the readers' knowledge about the product? Commented Feb 6 at 10:55
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    Whether the premodifier is descriptive, speaking of a property of the whole set of eggs – or identifying, pointing to some particularly risky subset – is unclear from the wording. Pragmatics (say the knowledge that archaeopteryx eggs are particularly dangerous and in the news) or context (a previous clear mention of the set or certain subsets) would give a default reading. But as it stands, it needs rewriting to disambiguate. Commented Feb 6 at 11:20

2 Answers 2

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If all you want to know is "whether native speakers have a preferred interpretation", then I understood "high risk eggs" in context to mean "eggs of a particular type which poses a high risk".

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  • ...which only goes to show that there is no hard-and-fast interpretation.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Feb 6 at 11:07
  • ... and surely that the question is off-topic and should be closed rather than answered. Commented Feb 6 at 11:07
  • Thanks! I wonder whether there's a stronger preference now. Commented Feb 6 at 11:08
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    @SuperDuperMario No; that's English Language Learners
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Feb 6 at 11:09
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    @EdwinAshworth Since the answer would appear to be (C), the question is answerable.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Feb 6 at 11:11
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If all you want to know is "whether native speakers have a preferred interpretation", then I understood "high risk eggs" in context to mean "eggs, which, as everyone knows, pose a high risk".

P.S. I don't know if eggs can spread viral disease. A quick scan of NIH.gov suggested that they can make a person sick if the eggs have salmonella bacteria and are not properly cooked before being eaten, but I haven't found anything so far to indicate that the egg-in-shell is a transmission vector of any pathogen that can quickly spread among a human population. Though perhaps there is some risk to endemic poultry.

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  • Thanks -- this is exactly I want. How would you describe a certain type of eggs that are high risk in this context if I may add a follow-up question? Commented Feb 6 at 11:05
  • How would I describe them or how would I refer to them?
    – TimR
    Commented Feb 6 at 11:08
  • How would you refer to them? Thanks! Commented Feb 6 at 11:09
  • I would use the phrase "certain high-risk eggs" if all I wanted to do was say that some kinds of eggs are risky while others are not, and hers were one of the risky kind.
    – TimR
    Commented Feb 6 at 11:10
  • Oh I see. Thank you! Commented Feb 6 at 11:12

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