Eggs and Egg Products

FOOD SAFETY AND EGGS

Not long ago, we didn't think twice about the safety of raw eggs.  Eggnogs and Caesar salad were popular foods made with raw eggs. We knew that the surface of the eggshell could be contaminated, so we washed eggs before handling. But the inside of the egg was thought to be sterile or germ-free, so there were no worries about the safety of raw or lightly cooked eggs. Salmonella enteritidis changed all that!! These bacteria have been found inside the egg, making any raw egg a potential source of foodborne illness.

In the early 1990s Salmonella became a household word. In Connecticut there was an outbreak in a nursing home and several people died. The Salmonella organism is not uncom­mon, and is found in the intestinal tract of animals, birds, reptiles, fish, insects and people. The bacteria can easily be passed from the intestinal tract to the hands and food.

While much has been done to reduce Salmonella on the farm and in processing plants, it is still not considered safe to eat raw eggs. A 2010 nationwide outbreak of Salmonella traced to a farm in Iowa brought about increased scrutiny of egg producers by the Food and Drug Administration, FDA, the regulatory agency responsible for the safety of fresh eggs.   In 2012, the FDA published Guidance for Industry: Questions and Answers Regarding the Final Rule, Prevention of Salmonella Enteritidis in Shell Eggs During Production, Storage, and Transportation.

The FDA considers all animal protein foods, including dairy products, eggs, meat, poultry and fish, to be "potentially hazardous." This is because they provide the ideal environment (food and moisture) for bacteria to grow if food safety rules are not followed. Eggs must be kept refrigerated and cooked com­pletely. Care must be taken to wash your hands and to clean any utensils or work surfaces that come into con­tact with raw eggs.

Symptoms of salmonellosis are abdominal cramps, fever, headache, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Although the attacks are usually of relatively short duration, the illness can be dangerous to infants, pregnant women, the elderly, those weakened by illness and people with immune system disorders. People in these groups should not eat raw eggs or any product such as Caesar Salad or eggnog that is made with uncooked eggs. Cooking to temperatures above 160°F or, until both the white and yolk are firm, will kill the organism.

BUYING AND STORING EGGS SAFELY

It is important to handle eggs safely to prevent illness. 

When buying eggs

  • Buy shell eggs only when sold from a refrigerator or refrigerated case.
  • In Connecticut supermarkets, eggs must be held at temperatures no lower than 45°F.
  • Open the carton, and make sure that the eggs are clean and the shells are not cracked.
  • Check "sell-buy" dates so that you are getting the freshest eggs.  Sell-by dates are an indication to store owners when to pull the product from the shelves.  This does not mean that the food is no longer safe to be consumed.  Eggs are safe to eat when stored properly up to 4-5 weeks after the sell by date.

If you choose to buy pasteurized eggs or an egg substitute product (usually found in a cardboard carton) made from egg whites, be sure that the product is sold from a refrigerated or freezer case. Check "sell-buy" dates for the freshest product.

When storing eggs

Store eggs in the original carton, and refrigerate as soon as possible after purchase. Be sure that the temperature in your refrigerator is 40°F or below. Eggs are washed and sanitized before they are packed. Eggs should not be washed before storage because you may remove the natural coating on the shell that protects the egg. 

HANDLING AND COOKING EGGS

When handling or preparing eggs

When preparing eggs, keep in mind that there is always a chance that they could be contaminated with bacteria. Wash your hands and all utensils, counters and cutting boards with hot water and soap before and after preparing eggs. Do not prepare raw eggs near ready-­to-eat foods like salads, cooked meat or fish, bread, rolls or fresh fruit.

  • Use only clean, unbroken eggs. Discard dirty or broken eggs.
  • Cold temperatures will reduce the chance that bacteria will multiply, so keep shell eggs, broken-out eggs or egg mixtures refrigerated before and after cooking.
  • Do not leave eggs in any form at room temperature for more than two hours including prepa­ration time and serving.
  • Hard-boiled eggs may be stored in the refrigerator for up to five days. Do not keep hard-boiled eggs at room temperature, unless you are serving them during a meal.
  • For picnics or outdoor parties, pack egg dishes with ice or a freezer gel pack in an insulated cooler or bag.
  • To prevent the contamination of other foods with the bacteria found in raw eggs, wash your hands, utensils, equipment and work areas with hot, soapy water before and after using eggs or making egg-containing foods to prevent cross-contamination.
  • To keep prepared egg dishes safe, refrigerate leftovers in shallow con­tainers immediately after serving so that they will cool quickly. Use left­overs within two days.

Cooking eggs

When eggs are fully cooked, bacteria, such as Salmonella, will be killed. When you cook eggs until the yolk and white are firm, you can be sure that they are safe. When eggs are the ingredients in fully cooked baked goods, you may also be sure that the bacteria have been killed. However, when eggs are ingredients in casser­oles, quiches, sauces or custards, it is best to use a thermometer to make sure that the food is cooked to at least 160°F.

If you like to eat eggs that are not cooked to this high temperature or if you are serving folks with compromised immune systems, you might want to consider using pasteurized egg products, often found in the dairy section or egg section of your market in a carton similar to a milk carton.

Want to read more?

Eggs and egg products, FoodSafety.Gov

Egg products and food safety, United States Department of Agriculture/Food Safety Inspection Service (USDA/FSIS)

American Egg Board, Eggs and Food safety