Not surprisingly, I've gotten lots of questions about eggs recently with all the recalls. Luckily, part of a Registered Dietitian's training includes getting our hands dirty in the kitchen as we learn how to keep food safe from harvest to home. So, I've been reminded of what I learned in my hair net days in order to review egg food safety for readers.
Despite every egg in the marketplace seemingly tainted these days, they really are generally a safe, bacteria-free food. Plus, eggs are a great source of a plethora of nutrients so you're wise to proceed with caution. But first, a quick history lesson. For centuries, eggs were considered sterile. We eventually learned hens can carry the salmonella bacteria and pass it to the egg before the shell forms. Because eggs are such a good source of nutrients for people, they're also a good source of nutrients for bacteria to thrive. So when Salmonella makes it into the egg, it takes heat to kill it.
To ease your nerves, let's review the many checkpoints eggs encounter on their journey from farm to fork.
1) Eggs have to be purchased from approved suppliers who follow federal regulations. USDA oversees and inspects suppliers to ensure certain rules are followed.
2) Packing facilities clean and sanitize eggs before they're packaged.
3) Eggs are delivered on refrigerated trucks-the truck's air temperature has to be 45 degrees or cooler in order for eggs to be accepted. Also, egg shells must be clean and unbroken and have no odor.
4) Immediately upon arrival, eggs must be stored in coolers (giant refrigerators) with air temperatures consistently below 45 degrees.
5) In foodservice establishments- restaurants, diners, food trucks, you name it- eggs are not to be removed from the cooler until they are going to be used. In other words, you can be sure your eggs haven't been sitting on the counter for hours. There are even rules for handling "pooled eggs"-several eggs dropped into the same bowl for the purpose of scrambling or baking or otherwise.
6) The National Restaurant Association Education Foundation even advises foodservice sites to plan to use eggs within a month of the package date to be on the safe side. This is a great rule to follow at home as well-use eggs within 4-5 weeks of purchase so long as they've been a refrigerator the whole time.
7) In dishes that call for raw or undercooked eggs, like eggnog or Caesar salad or Hollandaise sauce, restaurants use pasteurized eggs. Because of the heat treatment they undergo, pasteurized eggs do not have what it takes to carry Salmonella. In other words, they're a very safe bet!
Egg Safety At Home
Remember, eggs are inherently good, but you have to treat them as if each of them carries Salmonella. Cook them to temperature and be very careful not to cross contaminate. A few tips:
- Wash your hands and cooking surfaces thoroughly and often. If you crack open an egg, then touch the refrigerator handle and go back to what you were doing, then you've contaminated that handle. It's very important to be mindful of this stuff in the kitchen.
- To be safe, cook eggs to 145 degrees for at least 15 seconds- the whites will be set (no longer clear) and the yolks are beginning to firm as well. In terms of cooking eggs over easy are likely too runny, but scrambled and hard cooked eggs will be just fine.
- Avoid eating raw eggs- think raw cookie dough, eggnog, possibly French toast, etc.
Pasteurized eggs or egg products are also an option. Egg substitutes can come in powder or liquid form (Egg Beaters or Ener-G) and are a great alternative to the real thing. These are pasteurized and therefore salmonella-free. You can also learn from eggless cooking websites when determining what to substitute for eggs in recipes. Remember that when baking, eggs serve a variety of purposes. Typically eggs are used either for leavening (providing air and fluff) or for glue (holding everything together). There are some eggless chefsout there that you can likely learn a thing or two from...check them out!
For more information on egg safety, turn here:
Tanya Zuckerbrot MS, RD, is a Registered Dietitian in New York City and the author of two bestselling diet books: The F-Factor Diet and The Miracle Carb Diet: Make Calories and Fat Disappear – with Fiber.