A new study published in the Journal of Food Protection has found that only 48% of consumers wash their hands after handling raw eggs. Eggs can be contaminated with Salmonella bacteria, and that food-pathogen combination sickens thousands of Americans every year.
Researchers were from RTI International, Tennessee State University, and Kansas State University. The study was partially funded by the Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
A 2013 web survey of 1,504 adult grocery shoppers was conducted. Based on self-reported data, most consumers store eggs in the fridge, as recommended, for no more than 3 to 5 weeks, as recommended.But after cracking eggs, 48.1% of respondents washed their hands with soap and water. And more than half of respondents cooked fried and/or poached eggs so the whites and/or yolks were still soft and runny, which can lead to food poisoning.
Thirteen percent of consumers rinse or wash eggs before cooking, which can increase the chance of cross-contamiantion with another food. Twenty-five percent eat raw, homemade cookie dough or cake batter made with eggs. And just 5.2% of consumers used a food thermometer to check for the doneness of baked egg dishes.
Salmonella enteritidis, the bacteria found most often on shells eggs, is one of the most common sources of Salmonella outbreaks. Eggs are the most common source of the bacteria.
Cooking eggs properly and using a food thermometer to check the final internal temperature are important because Salmonella bacteria can actually be inside the egg. Many egg-laying hens have the pathogenic bacteria in their ovaries, so the shell forms around the contaminated material.
The last large Salmonella outbreak linked to eggs was in 2010, when almost 2,000 people were sickened after eating eggs produced by Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms in Iowa. More than 650,000,000 eggs were recalled as a result of that outbreak.
So consumers followed the “separate” and “chill” recommendations of the four core food safety messages, but ignored the “cook” and “clean” recommendations. The study recommends that to prevent Salmonella infections associated with shell eggs, consumers should improve these practices. The study will be used to develop science-based consumer education materials.