Stop that Caesar Salad! Hold the hollandaise! And quit munching that meringue.
Starting Sept. 4, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will require a warning about raw and undercooked eggs to be printed on all cartons of the food. The labels will read:
"SAFE HANDLING INSTRUCTIONS: To prevent illness from bacteria: keep eggs refrigerated, cook eggs until yolks are firm, and cook foods containing eggs thoroughly."
In other words, the government is saying you could be cracked to have your eggs sunny-side up.
The labels, hatched from the Egg Safety Action Plan announced by President Clinton in December 1999, have come none too soon, according to Carolyn Manning, an associate professor specializing in food safety at the University of Delaware.
"The new handling instructions are very important for consumers," she said. "If you're elderly or a child or immune compromised, you need to be careful. And people who like to have their eggs over easy are going to have to think twice before they eat them."
About one in every 20,000 eggs in the U.S. carries the salmonella bacteria, the FDA said, with the strain of the bacteria that chicken eggs carry causing symptoms including diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps, nausea and vomiting, and in some cases chronic arthritic symptoms or even death.
Though the hardboiled regulation is aimed at your average grocery shopper, it's prompted at least one Chicago diner to demand signed waivers from patrons who want runny eggs, Fox News Channel's Jeff Goldblatt reported Friday.
But some chefs are unfazed. Among them is Phillippe Parola, an award-winning Louisiana chef, restaurateur and head of The Louisiana Culinary & Hôtellerie Institute International. He says that while it might be a good idea to remind most American consumers and short-order cooks about the dangers of undercooked eggs, any chef worth his salt won't be changing his menu because of the warnings, and he certainly will still be doling out dishes using raw eggs.
"The consumer who cracks an egg once a week doesn't know what a good egg is supposed to look like, and a cook at a Waffle House who doesn't have time might take a chance on a questionable egg," he said. "I probably break 10,000 eggs a day. For us chefs, I think we know much better than these guys (at the FDA) what a good egg looks like."
Parola said the odor and consistency of a bad or infected egg are clear giveaways to any egg expert like himself, while the acidic ingredients commonly included in raw-egg recipes, like Dijon mustard or lemon juice, reduce the risk of foodborne diseases. With their scientific proclamations, government officials are poaching on the domain of kitchen artists, he said.
"We're food scientists, we're chefs," he said. "A professional chef knows what a good egg and bad egg is all about. We don't need a microscope and if you're a chef you have to be blind to miss it."
Manning said people without Parola's egg acumen needn't worry either. Home chefs can use pasteurized eggs, egg substitute or learn relatively simple methods to pasteurize eggs on their own.
"In general, they're relatively safe and we shouldn't eliminate them from our diet," she said. "We can find things wrong with every food. It's just that we should be aware of how to keep ourselves safe and make some adjustments to the way we do things."