April 2013
Homeplace & Community

Handle Eggs Properly to Prevent Salmonella


Eggs: You may like them sunny-side up or over easy, but it’s safer to eat eggs that are cooked well. Today, some unbroken, clean, fresh shell eggs may contain salmonella bacteria that can cause foodborne illness. To be safe, eggs must be properly handled, refrigerated and cooked.

How does salmonella infect eggs?

Bacteria can be inside an uncracked, whole egg. Contamination of eggs may be due to bacteria within the hen’s ovary or oviduct before the shell forms around the yolk and white. Salmonella doesn’t make the hen sick. Eggs are washed and sanitized at the processing plant. The Centers for Disease Control estimates one in every 20,000 eggs are contaminated with salmonella. Persons infected with salmonella may experience diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps, headache, nausea and vomiting.

Who is at risk of illness?

No one should eat foods containing raw eggs. This includes "health food" milkshakes made with raw eggs, Caesar salad, Hollandaise sauce and any other foods like homemade mayonnaise, ice cream or eggnog made from recipes in which the egg ingredients are not cooked.

How do you store shelled eggs?

Store in the refrigerator set at 40 degrees or below. Keep them in their carton and place them inside the refrigerator, not in the door. Don’t wash eggs because you remove the protective mineral oil coating and increase the potential for bacteria on the shell to enter the egg. Use eggs within four to five weeks from the day they are placed in the refrigerator. The "sell-by" date will usually expire during that length of time, but the eggs are safe to use.

How do you safely cook eggs?

Hard-cooked eggs should be safe for everyone to eat. The American Egg Board recommends frying, scrambling or poaching eggs until both the yolk and the white are firm.

Fried eggs — cook 2 to 3 minutes on each side, 4 minutes in a covered pan

Scrambled eggs — cook until firm throughout

Poached eggs — 5 minutes over boiling water

Soft-cooked eggs — 7 minutes in the shell in boiling water

Safe vs. unsafe recipes:

Homemade ice cream and eggnog can be made safely from a cooked egg-milk mixture. Heat it gently to 160 degrees on a food thermometer

Dry meringue shells are safe. So are divinity candy and 7-minute frosting made by combining hot sugar syrup with beaten egg whites.

Avoid icing recipes using uncooked eggs or egg whites.

Meringue-topped pies should be safe if baked at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes.

Chiffon pies and fruit whips made with raw, beaten egg whites are risky. Instead, substitute pasteurized dried egg whites, whipped cream or a whipped topping.

To make a recipe safe that specifies using uncooked eggs, heat the eggs in a liquid from the recipe over low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture reaches 160 degrees. Then combine it with the other ingredients and complete the recipe.

Angela Treadaway is a Regional Extension Agent in Food Safety. For any questions on food safety or preparation of vegetables, contact her at 205-410-3696 or your local county Extension office.