According to the American Egg Board, eggs are found in most homes in the United States. They're popular, especially for breakfast, and for use as an ingredient in many recipes. They're also found in many processed foods. Eggs can be a healthy part of a balanced diet; however you need to be careful -- especially with raw eggs -- to prevent foodborne illness due to bacterial growth.
Some raw eggs carry bacteria that can cause a nasty digestive tract infection called salmonellosis. Symptoms include fever, diarrhea and abdominal cramps and can appear anywhere from 12 hours to three days after eating contaminated eggs. Most people recover without any problems, but infants, the elderly and those with impaired immune systems may become very sick because the infection can spread from the digestive tract to the blood stream and my even cause death.
You can't tell which eggs are contaminated with salmonella by looking at them or smelling them, so you need to treat all raw eggs like potential carriers and follow proper food safety practices. The US Food and Drug Administration requires cartons of raw eggs that aren't treated to kill the salmonella to carry the following statement:
Safe Handling Instructions: To prevent illness from bacteria: keep eggs refrigerated, cook eggs until yolks are firm, and cook foods containing eggs thoroughly.Preventing foodborne illness from eggs begins at the grocery store and continues in your own kitchen - before, during and after meals.
Raw EggsHandle eggs and egg products safely to reduce your chance of infection. Choose raw eggs that are refrigerated, never buy eggs that are being sold at roadside stands or farmers markets unless they are being sold in refrigerated cases at a temperature below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Open the carton to be sure the eggs are clean and the shells are not cracked. Egg products sold in liquefied, dried or frozen form must be pasteurized to kill the salmonella (look on the label), but remember that frozen and liquid egg products should be handled as raw food.
Raw eggs must be kept refrigerated until you cook them or use them in recipes. Keep them in their cartoons to reduce the chance of accidental breakage. Raw eggs can be stored safely in the refrigerator for up to three weeks and liquid egg products should be kept in the refrigerator (look for a Use By date). Dry egg products can be kept at room temperature in a sealed container until it's opened, then they should be refrigerated. Once dry egg products are mixed with liquid they should be used or refrigerated within one hour.
Cooking EggsWhen it's time to cook your eggs, be sure all cooking surfaces, equipment, utensils and your hands are clean. Keep raw eggs away from cooked or ready-to-serve foods to prevent cross-contamination. And don't lick spoons or eat raw dough or batter made with raw eggs. Cook eggs until both whites and yolks are firm. Bake quiches, casseroles and other egg dishes to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit. If your recipes call for raw or undercooked eggs as part of the final product, be sure to choose eggs that have been treated to kill salmonella or use pasteurized egg products.
Once your eggs are cooked, you need to follow typical food safety procedures and either keep them hot until served (above 140 degrees Fahrenheit) or stored in cold temperatures (below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. After your meal is finished, refrigerate cooked eggs and egg dish leftovers right away. They can be kept refrigerated safely for three or four days. If you're packing a lunch with an egg salad sandwich or hard boiled eggs, you'll need to pack them with freezer packs or keep refrigerated until lunch time. Frozen eggs and egg products can be kept at 0 degrees Fahrenheit for up to one year. Thaw frozen egg products safely in the refrigerator, not at room temperature.
Learn More About Food Safety Issues
- One way to kill bugs and bacteria is with radiation. Learn more: What Is Food Irradiation?
- How do inspectors know if eggs are bad? Find out: How Are Eggs in the United States Inspected For Salmonella?
- Remember the BP Oil Spill? Is It Safe To Eat Gulf Coast Seafood?
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Salmonella enteritidis." Accessed July 13, 2009 http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dbmd/diseaseinfo/salment_g.ht."
United States Department of Agriculture. "Egg Products and Food Safety." Accessed July 13, 2009. http://www.fsis.usda.gov/Fact_Sheets/Egg_Products_and_Food_Safety/index.asp.
United States Food and Drug Administration. "Playing It Safe With Eggs." Accessed July 13, 2009. http://www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/ucm077342.htm.