How can I make sure my eggs are safe?



To avoid the possibility of food-borne illness, fresh eggs must be handled carefully. Even eggs with clean, uncracked shells may occasionally contain bacteria called Salmonella that can cause an intestinal infection. The most effective way to prevent egg-related illness is by knowing how to buy, store, handle and cook eggs--or foods that contain them--safely. That is why the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is requiring that, within nine months, all cartons of shell eggs that have not been treated to destroy Salmonella must carry the following safe handling statement "Safe Handling Instructions: To prevent illness from bacteria keep eggs refrigerated, cook eggs until yolks are firm, and cook foods containing eggs thoroughly."

Eggs that have been treated to destroy Salmonella--by in-shell pasteurization, for example--are not required to carry safe handling instructions. Liquid packs of eggs in the refrigerated case are pasteurized eggs. Here are some tips.

Buy safe:

* Buy eggs only if sold from a refrigerator or refrigerated case. In Utah, all untreated shell eggs sold at any type of retail outlet must be stored and displayed under refrigeration at 45° F (7° C) or lower.
* Open the carton and make sure the eggs are clean and the shells are not cracked.
* Store eggs in their original carton, refrigerate immediately after purchase and use them within 3 weeks for best quality.

Keep clean and don't cross-contaminate:

* Wash hands, utensils, equipment and work areas with hot, soapy water before and after they come in contact with eggs and egg-containing foods.

Cook thoroughly:

* Cook eggs until both the yolk and the white are firm. Scrambled eggs should not be runny. Casseroles and other dishes containing eggs should be cooked to 160ºF (72ºC). Use a food thermometer to be sure.
* If a recipe calls for eggs that are raw or undercooked when the dish is served--Caesar salad dressing and homemade ice cream are two examples--use either shell eggs that have been treated to destroy Salmonella, by pasteurization or another approved method, or pasteurized egg products.
* For ice cream, an alternate method is to cook the raw egg in part of the milk or cream until the temperature reaches 155°F and then included with the other ingredients.

Serve safely: (Bacteria can multiply in temperatures from 40ºF (5ºC) to 140ºF (60ºC), so it's very important to serve foods safely.)

* Serve cooked eggs and egg-containing foods immediately after cooking.
* For buffet-style serving, hot egg dishes should be kept hot, and cold egg dishes kept cold.
* Eggs and egg dishes, such as quiches, may be refrigerated for serving later but should be thoroughly reheated to 165ºF (74ºC) before serving.

Chill properly:

* Cooked eggs, including hard-boiled eggs and egg-containing foods, should not sit out for more than two hours. Within two hours either reheat or refrigerate.
* Use hard-cooked eggs (in the shell or peeled) within one week after cooking.
* Refrigerate leftover cooked egg dishes up to three-four days. When refrigerating a large amount of a hot egg-containing leftover, divide it into several shallow containers so it will cool quickly.

On the road:

* Cooked eggs for a picnic should be packed in an insulated cooler with enough ice or frozen gel packs to keep them cold. Don't put the cooler in the trunk in the summer--carry it in the passenger compartment of the car.
* If taking cooked eggs to work or school, pack them with a small frozen gel pack or a frozen juice box.

For more information on handling eggs and other foods safely, call toll-free 1 (888) SAFEFOOD, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, Food information line, 24 hours a day. Or visit: FDA's Food Safety Website: www.cfsan.fda.gov

Posted on 29 Mar 2001

Charlotte Brennand
Food Safety Specialist

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