Eggs can be a part of a healthy diet. However, they are perishable just like raw meat, poultry and fish. To be safe, they must be properly stored, handled and cooked.
Some unbroken fresh shell eggs may contain Salmonella enteritidis bacteria that can cause foodborne illness. While the number of eggs affected is quite small, there have been some scattered outbreaks in the last few years. Currently the government, the egg industry and the scientific community are working together to solve the problem.
Researchers say that if present, the Salmonella enteritidus bacteria are usually in the yolk or “yellow.” But they cannot rule out the bacteria being in egg whites. So everyone is advised against eating raw or undercooked egg yolks, whites or products that contain eggs.
People with health problems, the very young, the elderly and pregnant women (the risk is to the unborn child) are particularly vulnerable to Salmonella enteritidis infections. Chronic illness also weakens the immune system, making the person vulnerable to foodborne illness.
Proper refrigeration, cooking and handling should prevent most egg safety problems. People can enjoy eggs and dishes containing eggs if these safe handling guidelines are followed:
Don’t eat raw eggs: This includes “health food” milk shakes with raw eggs, Caesar salad, hollandaise sauce and any other foods like homemade mayonnaise, ice cream or eggnog made from recipes in which the raw egg ingredients are not cooked. These egg-based recipes should be updated to start with a cooked base or so that commercially prepared pasteurized eggs or egg substitutes are used. Use a thermometer and make sure the temperature of the cooked base reaches 160 °F.
Buy clean eggs from a refrigerator display case: Do not purchase eggs anywhere that are not refrigerated. Any bacteria present in the egg can grow quickly if stored at room temperature. At the store, choose Grade A or AA eggs with clean, uncracked shells.
Safe storage of eggs at home: Take eggs straight home and store them immediately in the refrigerator at 40 °F or slightly below. Store them in the grocery carton in the coldest part of the refrigerator, not in the door. Do not wash eggs. Washing eggs could remove the protective mineral oil coating put on at the plant and could increase the potential for bacteria on the shell to enter the egg.
Use eggs promptly: Use raw shell eggs within three to five weeks. When fresh eggs are hard cooked, the protective coating is washed away so hard-cooked eggs should be refrigerated within two hours of cooking and used within a week. Use leftover yolks and whites within four days. If eggs crack on the way home from the store, break them into a clean container, cover tightly, and keep refrigerated for use within two days.
Freeze eggs for longer storage: Eggs should not be frozen in their shells. To freeze whole eggs, beat yolks and whites together. Egg whites and yolks can also be frozen by themselves. Use frozen eggs within a year. If eggs freeze accidentally in their shells, keep them frozen until needed. Defrost them in refrigerator. Discard any with cracked shells.
Handle eggs safely: Wash hands, utensils, equipment and work areas with warm, soapy water before and after contact with eggs and egg-rich foods.
Serve immediately: Don’t keep out of the refrigerator more than two hours. Serve cooked eggs and egg-rich foods immediately after cooking, or place in shallow containers for quick cooling and refrigerate at once. Use within three to four days. Recipes using raw eggs should be cooked immediately or refrigerated and cooked within 24 hours.
For more information about eggs, check out fact sheet #3507 on Home and Garden Information Center webpage at http://hgic.clemson.edu