Handling Eggs Safely at Home
Eggs are a perishable food and must be properly stored and cooked. Raw eggs that
were contaminated with
Salmonella enteritidis bacteria have caused some
outbreaks of food borne illness. Most outbreaks appear to be related to pooling
(commingling) of eggs, time/temperature abuse, and incomplete cooking.
Most eggs do not contain Salmonella enteritidis and the risk of contracting
salmonellosis from raw or undercooked eggs is extremely small. Scientists have
concluded that Salmonella enteritidis can get inside the egg shell. Just how or
when this contamination occurs is still unclear, but scientists are working to
better understand the problem and find solutions.
Proper refrigeration at 40 deg F or below limits the growth of Salmonella
enteritidis and proper cooking at 140 deg F or above destroys the organism.
Therefore, consumers must follow safe food-handling practices when preparing
Special precautions are needed when eggs are served to people who are
particularly vulnerable to Salmonella enteritidis infections. High-risk groups
are the very young, the elderly, pregnant women (because of risk to the fetus),
and people already weakened by serious illness or whose immune systems are
Consumers should take the following precautions when handling both raw eggs and
foods in which eggs are an ingredient, such as quiche or baked custard.
1. Avoid eating raw eggs and foods containing raw eggs: Homemade caesar salad,
homemade hollandaise sauce, and homemade mayonnaise, for example. Likewise,
homemade ice cream and homemade eggnog should be avoided unless made with a
cooked, custard-type base. Commercial forms of these products are safe to serve
since they are made with pasteurized liquid eggs. Commercial pasteurization
destroys Salmonella bacteria.
2. Cook eggs thoroughly until both the yolk and the white are firm. This is
especially important for people most at risk for foodborne illness. Those
electing not to consume hard-cooked eggs can minimize their risk by cooking the
egg until the white is completely firm and the yolk begins to thicken but is not
hard. Fried eggs should be cooked on both sides or in a covered pan. Scrambled
eggs should be cooked until firm throughout.
3. Realize that eating lightly cooked foods containing eggs, such as meringues,
and French toast, may be risky for people in high-risk groups.
Consumers should also follow the usual safe food-handling practices for eggs:
1. Buy refrigerated grade AA or A eggs with clean, uncracked shells.
2. At home, keep eggs in their original carton and refrigerate as soon as
possible at a temperature no higher than 40 deg F. Do not wash eggs before
storing or using them. Washing is a routine part of commercial egg processing
and rewashing is unnecessary.
3. Use raw shell eggs within 5 weeks after bringing them home. Use hard-cooked
eggs (in the shell or peeled) within 1 week after cooking. Use leftover yolks
and whites within 4 days after removing them from the shell.
4. Avoid keeping raw or cooked eggs and egg-containing foods out of the
refrigerator for more than 2 hours, including time for preparing and serving
(but not cooking). If you hide hard-cooked eggs for an egg hunt, either follow
the 2-hour rule or do not eat the eggs.
5. Wash hands, utensils, equipment, and work areas with hot, soapy water before
and after they come in contact with eggs and egg-containing foods.
6. Review traditional recipes that, when served, contain raw or under-cooked
eggs. Replace with recipes that, when served, contain thoroughly cooked eggs.
7. Serve cooked eggs and egg-containing foods hot, immediately after cooking; or
hold for buffet-style serving at 140 deg F or higher; or refrigerate at 40 deg F
or below for serving later. Use within 3-4 days.
8. When refrigerating a large amount of a hot egg-containing food or leftover,
divide it into several shallow containers so it will cool quickly.
For more information on handling eggs safely, call USDA's Meat and Poultry
Hotline, 1-800-535-4555. In the Washington, D.C. area call (202) 720-3333. Hours
are from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.
USDA/FDA Consumer Bulletin: January 1992