Eggs: Reducing the Risk of Illness from Salmonella
By LCDR Shua Chai, MD, MPH, Medical Epidemiologist, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
When we think of special foods for spring, we often think of eggs. Unfortunately, thanks to last summer’s egg recall, when we think of eggs, we may also think of food illnesses such as Salmonella.
To avoid food poisoning, you must take special care when handling and preparing fresh eggs and egg products. Did you know that Salmonella can be found on both the outside and inside of eggs that appear to be normal? The larger the number of Salmonella bacteria present in the egg, the more likely the egg is to cause illness.
Shell eggs are safest when stored in the refrigerator, individually and thoroughly cooked, and promptly consumed after cooking. Here are some specific tips to help you and your family reduce the risk of a Salmonella infection from eggs.
Refrigerate Eggs Promptly
- Keeping eggs adequately refrigerated prevents any Salmonella in the eggs from growing to higher numbers. Keep eggs refrigerated at ≤ 40° F (≤4° C) until they are needed. Buy eggs only from stores or other suppliers that keep them refrigerated.
- Refrigerate unused eggs or leftovers that contain eggs promptly.
- Wash hands and all food contact surface areas (counter tops, utensils, dishes, and cutting boards) with soap and water after contact with raw eggs. Then disinfect the food contact surfaces using a sanitizing agent, such as bleach, following label instructions.
- Discard cracked or dirty eggs.
Cook Eggs Thoroughly
Cooking reduces the number of bacteria present in an egg; however, a lightly cooked egg with a runny egg white or yolk still poses a greater risk than a thoroughly cooked egg. Lightly cooked egg whites and yolks have both caused outbreaks of Salmonella infections.
- Eggs should be thoroughly cooked until both the yolk and white are firm. Recipes containing eggs mixed with other foods should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160ºF (71ºC).
- Eat eggs promptly after cooking. Do not keep eggs warm or at room temperature (between 40 to 140ºF) for more than 2 hours.
- For recipes that call for raw or lightly cooked eggs, consider using pasteurized shell eggs. You can buy pasteurized eggs from certain stores and suppliers.
Avoid restaurant dishes made with raw or lightly cooked, unpasteurized eggs. Restaurants should use pasteurized eggs in any recipe (such as Hollandaise sauce or Caesar salad dressing) that would result in consumption of raw or lightly cooked eggs. For more details, see Egg Safety and Eating Out.
Protecting Those at Risk
The elderly, infants, and those with impaired immune systems may have a more severe illness. In these patients, the Salmonella infection may spread from the intestines to the blood stream, and then to other body sites and can cause death unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics. That’s why consumption of raw or undercooked eggs should be avoided, especially by young children, elderly persons, and persons with weakened immune systems or debilitating illness.