Maybe you heard about it, maybe you didn’t, but huge grocery corporations across America (like Walmart, Food Lion, and other chains) have been recalling over 206 million eggs in response to The Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Salmonella-contamination concerns. There have been 23 reports of illnesses (diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps—symptoms not unlike those of food poisoning) have caused this nation-wide alarm, startling American’s and posing untold amounts of questions: Will eating eggs make me sick? Do all eggs have Salmonella in them? How does Salmonella get in eggs? Will we ever have good eggs again, and how will we be able to trust that they’re good?
With eggs being one of America’s most nutritious and economical foods, it’s no wonder this occurrence has caused such an upset. The crazy thing about it, however, is that it possible to avoid Salmonella outbreaks!
When handling any sort of raw food (meats, fish, and even, fruits and vegetables) a certain amount of carefulness and knowledge is not only ideal but necessary in order to prevent foodborne illnesses. Eggs are no exception. That doesn’t make purchasing them at the grocery store dangerous (any more than purchasing a raw chicken is dangerous), as long as you understand that eating it raw, undercooked, or expired presents you with some risks.
For eggs, that risk is Salmonella.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Poultry may carry bacteria such as Salmonella that can contaminate the inside of the eggs before the shells are formed. Eggs can also become contaminated from the droppings of poultry through the laying process or the environment (e.g., contaminated poultry feed or bedding)”. Therefore, Salmonella is a bacterium that grows sometime during the laying process, usually while the egg is still inside the chicken because of a Salmonella colonization in the ovaries, or sometimes after a while in the nest, contaminated with chicken droppings or food. Consequently, the bacteria can be on either the inside or the outside of the egg, making it sound altogether scary and gross. Yes! Even the shell can be contaminated. The USDA confirms, “[c]ontamination of eggs may be due to bacteria within the hen’s reproductive tract before the shell forms around the yolk and white. [These bacteria do not] make the hen sick.”
Now, it’s important to understand that the germ isn’t in every egg, and even if the egg is contaminated with Salmonella, it is possible to eat it without getting sick—as long as you don’t handle your eggs carelessly. That isn’t to say that you should eat Salmonella contaminated eggs, but rather that if you handle eggs properly, it’s possible to eliminate your risk of getting poisoned by the bad ones that just so happen to make it home to your kitchen.
So, what are some ways to be careful? For one, purchasing pasteurized eggs significantly decreases the likelihood of buying germy eggs. In addition, keeping your eggs refrigerated at all times, washing them before using them, and discarding cracked or dirty eggs helps eliminate Salmonella contamination.
But what’s the thing that kills Salmonella altogether?
That’s right. Salmonella is bacteria and that bacteria can’t survive through a satisfactory amount of cooking.
Think about it. Do you eat your chicken raw? No. If you see that it’s raw, you throw it back on the heat because that raw will make you sick. And if you order a burger at a restaurant, isn’t there a warning on the menu saying that consuming undercooked meats could make you sick? That’s because of bacteria, and eggs are similar in that way. That’s why you’re not supposed to eat raw cookie dough, or brownie batter, or scrambled eggs that are still ooey and gooey.
According to the CDC, you should “cook eggs until both the yolk and white are firm. Egg dishes should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160°F (71°C) or hotter”. In addition, when making foods that contain raw eggs, or even lightly cooked eggs (hollandaise sauce, some salad dressings, certain desserts, etc.), you should be sure to use only pasteurized eggs. Washing things with soap and water that have come into contact with raw eggs (things such as your hands, counter tops, utensils, dishes, cutting boards, clothes, and whatever else) is also important to preventing Salmonella contamination.
It’s really that simple. Raw eggs have the potential to contain bacteria, but if you properly cook them, then you’ll eliminate that bacteria. The good news is, some egg products are pasteurized! FoodSafety.gov notes:
“Egg products, such as liquid or frozen egg substitute, are pasteurized, so it’s safe to use them in recipes that will be not be cooked. However, it’s best to use egg products in a recipe that will be cooked, especially if you are serving pregnant women, babies, young children, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems.”
Now, it’s important to note that Salmonella poisoning isn’t an inconsequential issue. It can be life-threatening to older adults, infants, and people with weaker immune systems, and has been known as the cause of death before. But Salmonella poisoning can also absolutely be avoided with a proper handling of eggs. You should definitely avoid eating an egg that you know for sure is contaminated, and you can find more information about what eggs have been recalled here and return any of yours that fit that bill. Otherwise, you should feel free to replenish your egg supply, scramble up a fully-cooked breakfast, and enjoy a nutritious meal.
Let’s handle our food properly and avoid another Salmonellaoutbreak, shall we?
We at MakeFoodSafe are continuing our coverage on the Salmonella Outbreak linked to Shell Eggs and recall as more and more details are released. Please check back soon for more updates.
By: Abigail Ryan, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)