Playing it safe with eggs

Providing consumers with safe egg handling tips may help reduce the incidence of foodborne illness.

Several cartons of eggs stacked on top of each other.
Photo: Lisa Treiber/MSU Extension.

Fresh eggs are an affordable source of protein for consumers. They also are considered perishable and must be handled just like raw meat, poultry and fish, which means keeping them refrigerated.

The first step in purchasing eggs is to look for shells that are unbroken and clean. It is important to remember that Salmonella enteritidis (SE) bacteria can cause foodborne illness in even the best looking egg. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) tells us to purchase eggs before the sell-by or expiration date on the carton. The eggs will be safe to be consumed three to five weeks from the date they are purchased if placed in the refrigerator and maintained at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. Purchase eggs that are refrigerated, making sure their cartons are clean. Refrigerate the eggs right away when you get home, keeping them in their original container in the coldest part of the refrigerator at 40 degrees or lower. Also avoid putting eggs in the door of the refrigerator, where temperatures will vary when the door is opened and closed.

The first step to food preparation is to ensure a clean work area, wash counter tops with soap and hot water. Before starting to prepare a recipe, make sure utensils, dishes and cutting boards are clean as well. It is also important to remember when handling eggs, whether cracking them into a bowl or getting them out of the egg carton, to wash hands before and after touching them. Do not just wipe your hands on a towel and continue preparing food; stop and wash your hands with warm water and soap before moving on to the next step in your food prep to prevent contamination.

Cooking eggs thoroughly is another way to reduce the risk of getting salmonella. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommend, “for high-risk populations, to cook both the yolk and white until firm. Egg dishes should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 [degrees], measure this using a food thermometer.” The CDC recommends using pasteurized eggs or pasteurized egg products for recipes containing raw or “slightly cooked eggs, such as hollandaise sauce, Caesar salad dressing and tiramisu.”

Bacteria growth in perishable foods such as eggs, meats and poultry can multiply quickly if kept in the temperature danger zone of 40 to 140 degrees. Cooked eggs, including hard-boiled eggs, should not sit out at room temperature for more than two hours. If it is warmer than 90 degrees, this rule changes to one hour.  If a buffet is planned, hot egg dishes should be kept above 140 degrees, using heated gel packs or chafing dishes. Cold egg dishes should be kept cold at 40 degrees or below, using ice packs or bowls of ice. Egg dishes planned for service later should be thoroughly reheated to 165 degrees using a food thermometer to check the temperature before serving.

Hardboiled eggs (in the shell or peeled) must be used within one week after cooking, provided they were properly refrigerated. Leftover egg dishes must be used within three to four days. To safely cool large amounts of hot foods, including egg dishes, divide the food into smaller shallow containers before placing into the refrigerator. Do not stack the containers when placing in the refrigerator. This will ensure quicker cooling and safer leftovers.

If you have further questions, call MSU Extension’s Food Safety Hotline at 1-877-643-9882. To contact an expert in your area, visit MSU Extension's expert search, or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).

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