Enjoy eggs safely

Eggs can be part of a healthy diet. But they are perishable like raw meat, poultry and fish. They must be properly refrigerated and cooked to be safe.

Eggs are a healthy, versatile and inexpensive source of protein. Fresh eggs must be handled carefully. Even eggs that look clean and smooth shells could harbor Salmonella bacteria. Taking proper steps in handling, refrigeration and cooking should prevent most egg safety problems.

All eggs and egg products must be labeled with the product name, ingredients listed in order of largest to smaller amounts, distributor name and address, packing date (possibly shown as a lot or production code number) weight and the official USDA inspection mark and establishment number. Eggs and egg products also contain the following important safe handling instructions: “To prevent illness from bacteria: keep eggs refrigerated, cook eggs until yolks are firm, and cook foods containing eggs thoroughly.”

Following the safe handling instructions is crucial for people who are the most vulnerable to food borne illness – children, older adults, pregnant women and people with weak immune systems. No one should eat foods containing raw eggs, including health food shakes, Caesar salad, Hollandaise sauce, and any other foods, like homemade mayonnaise, ice cream or eggnog made from recipes with uncooked egg ingredients. If you have a recipe that calls for raw eggs, use one of the many alternatives such as in-shell pasteurized eggs, dried whites, or others.

In-shell pasteurized eggs are rapidly heated and held at a minimum required temperature a specific amount of time. This process destroys Salmonella bacteria but does not cook the eggs or impact their color, flavor, nutritional value or use. Dried whites are pasteurized by heating in the dried form. These pasteurized eggs can be substituted in recipes typically made with raw eggs that will not be cooked.

The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service provides the following tips for avoiding foodborne illness from eggs:

  • Always buy eggs from a refrigerated case. Choose eggs with clean, un-cracked shells.
  • Buy eggs before the “Sell-By” or “EXP” (expiration) date on the carton.
  • Take eggs directly home from grocery store and refrigerate immediately.
  • Keep eggs in carton and store in the coldest part of the refrigerator, not on the door.
  • Raw shell eggs in the carton can stay in refrigerator for three to five weeks from purchase date. Even if the “Sell By” date passes, if the refrigerator is kept at 40 degrees F, they should keep up to seven to ten days beyond that date.
  • Always wash your hands with warm water and soap before and after handling raw eggs.
  • Do not keep raw eggs out of refrigerator more than two hours.
  • Egg dishes such as deviled eggs or egg salad should be used within three to four days.

Eggs are nutritious, inexpensive and versatile, but also very perishable. Following these simple guidelines will help to keep them safe for you and your family. Egg dishes should be cooked to 160 degrees F. Scrambled, fried, poached, boiled or baked eggs need to be cooked until both the white and yolk are firm. Use eggs within three to five weeks of date of purchase. For more information on egg safety and egg products contact USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service.

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