Every year, about 79,000 Americans get sick from Salmonella in eggs. And about 30 people die, according to the FDA. While the government has regulations to hep prevent contamination of eggs on the farm and in transit, they have not been unable to eliminate this risk. The pathogenic bacteria can be on the inside of the egg, so eating raw or undercooked eggs puts you at risk of a serious foodborne illness. Here’s what you need to know about eggs and food safety.
Salmonella is a bacteria that is a common cause of food poisoning in this country and around the world. Symptoms of a Salmonella infection include diarrhea that may be bloody, fever, abdominal cramps, nausea, and vomiting. Most symptoms begin 12 to 72 hours after infection, and people are usually sick for about a week. But some people can become so ill they must be hospitalized. Those most at risk for serious complications from a Salmonella infection include the very young the elderly, pregnant women, those with compromised immune systems, and people with chronic illnesses.
The FDA requires that all cartons of shell eggs that have not been pasteurized carry a safe handling statement. This statement reads, “To prevent illness from bacteria: keep eggs refrigerated, cook eggs until yolks are firm, and cook foods containing eggs thoroughly.”
Pasteurized eggs, or those that have been treated with heat while still in the shell, are not required to carry this label. But the labeling will tell you if the eggs are pasteurized and also tell you a use-by date. Abide by that date for the safest product.
You can minimize your risk of Salmonella in eggs with a few tips. First, only buy eggs if they are sold from a refrigerated case. Look at the eggs before you buy them. Do not buy eggs that have a dirty shell or a cracked shell.
When you get home, store the eggs immediately in a refrigerator kept at 40°F or below. Use a refrigerator thermometer to make sure that it is held at a safe temperature. Store the eggs in their original carton (don’t put them in the door, where the temperature may be higher), and use them within three weeks.
Use hard cooked eggs within 1 week. Use frozen eggs within 1 year. And never freeze eggs in their shell. If you want to freeze whole eggs, crack them into a bowl and beat them. You can freeze egg whites by themselves. Always refrigerate any cooked dish that contains egg and use within three to four days.
Cook eggs until both the yolk and white are firm to kill any pathogenic bacteria. Cook eggs to 160°F, and make sure that casseroles and other dishes made with eggs are cooked to that temperature. Use a food thermometer to be sure.
When you want to make a recipe that calls for raw or undercooked eggs, such as Caesar salad dressing, use pasteurized eggs. Never use raw eggs.
Never leave cooked eggs or egg dishes out of the fridge for more than 2 hours. Salmonella bacteria grow rapidly between 40°F and 140°F. Keep hot egg dishes hot and cold egg dishes cold.
When you want to transport egg dishes, pack them in an insulated cooler with ice or frozen gel packs. Put the insulated cooler in the passenger compartment of the car, not in the trunk. And put the cooler in the shade if you are going on a picnic.