Some recipes, such as Caesar salad dressing and homemade ice cream, call for raw or undercooked eggs, and many people also consume raw eggs for their nutritional properties. However, eating raw eggs may not be safe.
The Department of Agriculture says that no one should eat raw unpasteurized eggs, as they can contain bacteria that can cause illness. However, in recent years, consumers have developed a desire for raw, untreated food products. This has contributed to the recent increase in foodborne parasitic infections.
Is it safe to eat raw eggs?
Eggs are a nutrient-dense food when a person prepares them without adding solid fats, sugar, refined starches, or sodium. A nutrient-dense food meets the food group’s recommendations within the calorie and sodium limits.
The Department of Agriculture does not recommend that people eat raw, unpasteurized eggs, but does state that people can eat pasteurized eggs in the shell without cooking them. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines recommend the use of pasteurized eggs or egg products when preparing foods that require raw eggs, such as:
- Smoothies and other drinks.
- Hollandese sauce.
- Homemade icecream.
- Uncooked cookie dough.
Some groceries sell pasteurized eggs. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends keeping pasteurized eggs in the refrigerator.
Risks of eating raw eggs
Some people prefer to eat raw or undercooked eggs. However, the FDA estimates that about 79,000 people develop foodborne illness, and 30 people die each year from eating Salmonella-contaminated eggs.
Some chickens carry Salmonella typhimurium and Salmonella enteritidis in their reproductive organs. Factors that influence contamination of chicken eggs with Salmonella include:
- How many chickens are in the flock.
- The age of the flock.
- The stress levels of the birds.
- Their feeding.
- Hygiene and cleanliness.
How to prevent contamination if you eat raw eggs
Ways to control or prevent Salmonella include pasteurization and irradiation. Pasteurization consists of heating the eggs with hot water or hot air for a very specific period of time.
The Department of Agriculture recommends heating eggs to a variety of temperatures to pasteurize individual parts of the egg. For example, egg yolks require heating to a minimum temperature of 60 ° C for 6.2 minutes. Pasteurization significantly reduces Salmonella contamination but does not affect the nutritional quality or taste of the egg. Irradiation involves exposing the eggs to a dose of radiation, but this method can affect egg quality.
The link between salmonella and chicken
In many countries, there is a growing interest in raising backyard chickens. Researchers from the Department of Agriculture surveyed chicken owners to find out how they care for and manage their herds.
The researchers estimate that less than 50% of the chicken owners who responded to the questionnaire were aware of the link between Salmonella infection and poultry.
A study conducted in Australia asked participants about their consumption of raw eggs. While 84% of the people answered that they did not consume raw eggs, 86% of the participants admitted that they licked the raw batter from bowls, spoons and spatulas. The researchers noted that many people are unaware that eating raw eggs can cause illness.
The researchers also looked at the food handling practices of a variety of people, and found that environmental health officials and food handlers had safer food handling habits than other professionals. This could indicate that educating people on how to handle food safely can improve food safety at home.
Who is at risk of infection?
People who eat raw or undercooked eggs can get a Salmonella infection, which doctors also call salmonellosis. According to the FDA, symptoms of a Salmonella infection occur within 12 to 72 hours of eating contaminated food. People who have Salmonella infection may experience the following symptoms:
- Abdominal cramps
The FDA also notes that infants, children, older adults, and pregnant women are at increased risk of getting sick from Salmonella infection. People with a compromised immune system are also at higher risk of developing foodborne illness. People with diabetes, cancer, HIV or AIDS, or those who have transplanted organs should avoid consuming raw, untreated eggs. Pasteurized eggs are safer for people living with these conditions.
In addition to food safety concerns, consuming raw egg whites interferes with the body’s ability to absorb biotin. Biotin plays a critical role in fat and carbohydrate metabolism, and a deficiency can affect insulin function, which can worsen blood sugar management.
How to handle and cook eggs
The FDA recommends the following tips to help people handle eggs safely:
- To prevent eggs from getting sick, buy refrigerated eggs and store them in the
- refrigerator at a temperature of 40 ° F or below.
- If an eggshell is cracked or dirty, don’t use it.
- It is essential that people wash their hands, utensils, and kitchen counters with hot soapy water before and after handling raw eggs.
- Check the cardboard box. The FDA places safe handling instructions on untreated egg cartons. Pasteurized eggs may have a label stating that the carton contains treated eggs.
The Department of Agriculture offers tips on how to cook eggs:
- Cooking options include poaching, hard cooking, mixing, frying, and baking.
- Always cook the whites well and make sure the yolks are firm.
- For baked dishes, such as casseroles, people should make sure the internal temperature is at least 160 ° F before eating.
- When making homemade ice cream and eggnog, gently heat the egg-milk mixture to 160 ° F.