Questions & Answers on Egg Safety


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Q.How should eggs be refrigerated?
A.
Refrigerate raw shell eggs in their cartons on the middle or lower inside shelf, not on the door, and away from any meat that might drip juices or any raw produce that might contact eggshells. Cover or wrap well any egg mixtures or leftover cooked egg dishes. For all perishable foods, including eggs and dishes containing eggs, allow no more than 2 hours at room temperature for preparation and serving, 30 minutes to 1 hour when it’s 85°F or hotter without refrigeration.

Q.How long are eggs that have been refrigerated, safe to eat?
A.
Raw eggs maintain their freshness for 4-5 weeks after purchase if kept refrigerated continuously.

Q.How long are hard cooked eggs that have been refrigerated, safe to eat?
A.
A hard cooked egg, if keep in its shell, can be safely refrigerated for up to one week.

Q.I just realized I left the egg carton on the kitchen counter overnight. Are the eggs safe to use?
A.
A hard cooked egg, if keep in its shell, can be safely refrigerated for up to one week.

Q.What should you consider when purchasing eggs?

A.Always buy eggs from a refrigerated case. Choose eggs with clean, uncracked shells. Don’t buy out of date eggs. The USDA grade shield on the carton means that the eggs were graded for quality and checked for weight under the supervision of a trained USDA grader. State agencies monitor compliance for egg packers who do not use the USDA grading service.

Q.What does the date on the egg carton mean?

A.Egg cartons with the USDA grademark must display a “Julian date”*, the date the eggs were packed. Although not required, they may also carry an expiration date beyond which the eggs should not be sold, but are still safe to eat. On cartons with the USDA grademark, this date cannot exceed 30 days after the eggs were packed in the carton. Depending on the retailer, the expiration date may be less than 30 days. Eggs packed in cartons without the USDA grademark are governed by the laws of their states.

*Julian date: usually on the short side of the carton, represents the consecutive days of the year with the number 001 as January 1 and December 31 as 365.

Q.How long are eggs safe to eat after purchase?

A.Fresh shell eggs can be stored in their cartons in the refrigerator for four to five weeks beyond the carton’s Julian date with minor loss of quality. Once an egg begins to age, it loses moisture through its porous shell and begins to dry. The membranes that hold the egg structure begin to loosen and the yolk may not be anchored in the center of the white once the egg is broken. An older egg would be most appropriate for a mixed dish, a batter or a hard cooked egg which should be easier to peel than a freshly laid egg.

Q.What is an adequate temperature to cook an egg?

A.Egg white coagulates between 144 and 149°F, egg yolk coagulates between 149 and 158°F and whole eggs between 144 and 158°F. Plain whole eggs without added ingredients are pasteurized but not cooked by bringing them to 140°F and maintaining that temperature for 3 and 1/2 minutes. According to the FDA Food Code, eggs for immediate consumption can be cooked to 145°F for 15 seconds.

If the eggs are to be used in a recipe with other food items, dilute the eggs with liquid or other ingredients, such as milk, or sugar (at least ¼ cup liquid or sugar per egg as in custard) and cook the egg mixture to 160°F, which will destroy harmful bacteria in a few seconds. Adequate cooking brings eggs and other foods to a temperature high enough to destroy bacteria that might be present.

Q.How safe are eggs?

A.The risk of getting a foodborne illness from eggs is very low. However, the nutrients that make eggs a high-quality food for humans are also a good growth medium for bacteria. In addition to food, bacteria also need moisture, a favorable temperature and time in order to multiply and increase the risk of illness. In the rare event that an egg contains bacteria, you can reduce the risk by proper chilling and eliminate it by proper cooking. When you handle eggs with care, they pose no greater food-safety risk than any other perishable food.

The inside of an egg was once considered almost sterile. But, over recent years, the bacterium Salmonella enteritidis (Se) has been found inside a small number of eggs. Scientists estimate that, on average across the U.S., only 1 of every 20,000 eggs might contain the bacteria. So, the likelihood that an egg might contain Se is extremely small – 0.005% (five one-thousandths of one percent). At this rate, if you’re an average consumer, you might encounter a contaminated egg once every 84 years.

Other types of microorganisms could be deposited along with dirt on the outside of an egg. In the U.S., eggshells are washed and sanitized to remove possible hazards. You can further protect yourself and your family by discarding eggs that are unclean, cracked, broken or leaking and making sure you and your family members use good hygiene practices, including properly washing your hands and keeping them clean.

Q.Is the appearance of an egg related to food safety?

A.Variation in egg color is due to many factors. A cloudy white is a sign that the egg is very fresh. A clear egg white is an indication that the egg is aging. Pink or iridescent egg white indicates spoilage and should not be consumed. A rupture of one or more small blood vessels in the yolk may cause blood spots at the time of ovulation. It does not indicate the egg is unsafe to eat. The color of the yolk varies in shades of yellow depending upon the diet of the hen. If she eats plenty of yellow/orange plants the yolk with be a darker yellow than if she eats white cornmeal, a colorless diet. A green ring on a hard cooked yolk is result of overcooking and is caused by sulfur and iron compounds in the egg reacting on the yolk’s surface. The green color can also be caused by a high amount of iron in the cooking water. Scrambled eggs held too long on a steam table or at too high a temperature can also develop a green tint. The green color is safe to eat.

Q.Does a blood spot mean an egg is contaminated?

A.No. You can’t see bacteria with the naked eye. Blood or meat spots are occasionally found on an egg yolk and are merely an error on the part of the hen. They’re caused by the rupture of a blood vessel on the yolk surface when it’s being formed or by a similar accident in the wall of the oviduct. Most eggs with blood spots are detected by electronic spotters and never reach the market. But, even with mass scanners, it’s impossible to catch them all. Both chemically and nutritionally, eggs with blood spots are fit to eat. You can remove the spot with the tip of a knife, if you wish.

Q.Are the twisted, ropey strands of egg white safe?

A.Yes. These strands are the chalazae which anchor the yolk in the center of the thick white. They’re composed of nutritious egg albumen and do not indicate contamination. In fact, the more prominent the chalazae, the fresher the egg. These natural parts of the egg don’t interfere with cooking or beating of the white and you don’t need to remove them, although some cooks like to strain them from stirred custard.

Q.What does it mean when an egg floats in water?

A.An egg can float in water when its air cell has enlarged significantly to keep it buoyant. This means the egg is old, but it may be perfectly safe to use. Crack the egg into a bowl and examine it for an off-odor or unusual appearance before deciding to use or discard it. A spoiled egg will have an unpleasant odor when you break open the shell, either when raw or cooked. How is the egg industry working to promote egg safety? Egg industry programs start by keeping breeder flocks Salmonella free. The National Poultry Improvement Plan, a joint program between the industry and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is a model program for preventing breeder stock infection.

.Ongoing research projects are dedicated to discovering how Salmonella gets into flocks and how it might be blocked.

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A number of farm level programs such as the United Egg Producer’s 5 Star program, apply quality control measures and sanitation procedures all through the production, processing and preparation phases, including testing chicks to confirm their cleanliness and Salmonella free status. By holding eggs at cool temperatures (45°F) during production and transportation stages, producers help to ensure that any Salmonella present will not multiply and less bacteria will be available to spread or risk infecting the consumer.

Q.What is foodborne illness?

A.The way food is processed and prepared is important because all foods have the ability to carry microorganisms (like bacteria and viruses) or toxins that can cause illness. If microorganisms or toxins are introduced to food or if bacteria are allowed to grow in or on food without being killed (usually by heat) before eating, foodborne illness can result. Common symptoms of foodborne illness include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, cramps and headache.

Q.How can I protect myself and my family from foodborne illness?

A. Along with other food and food-related organizations as well as government food and education agencies, American Egg Board is a founding member of the Partnership for Food Safety Education. This unique industry and government coalition has the aim of informing consumers about safe food-handling practices through the Fight BAC!™campaign. By following the Fight BAC!™ recommendations to clean, separate, cook and chill, you can help prevent BAC from causing foodborne illness.

Q.How does Salmonella infect eggs?

A. Salmonella bacteria are found in the intestinal tracts of animals, birds, reptiles, insects and humans. Salmonella may be found on the outside of the egg shell before the egg is washed or it may be found inside the egg if the hen was infected. It is estimated that one egg in 20,000 eggs may contain Salmonella which is a 0.005% contamination rate. Eggs contain natural antimicrobial substances in the egg white, and all eggs are washed and sanitized before they are packed. Egg recipes properly prepared in individual servings and promptly eaten are rarely a problem. Inadequate refrigeration, improper handling and insufficient cooking are all factors that have contributed to disease outbreaks. Salmonella is destroyed by heat. Eggs that have been handled and cooked properly should not cause human illness.

Q.What will happen if I eat an egg containing Salmonella?

A.If an egg containing Salmonella has been kept refrigerated and someone who uses good hygiene practices serves it to you immediately after proper cooking, you’ll simply have a nutritious meal. If the egg has been improperly handled, though, you might experience the foodborne illness called salmonellosis. You could have symptoms of abdominal cramps, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, chills, fever and/or headache within 6 to 72 hours after eating. The symptoms usually last only a day or two in healthy people but can lead to serious complications for the very young, pregnant women, the elderly, the ill and those with immune system disorders. Anyone who has had salmonellosis may pass along the bacteria for several weeks after recovering, but salmonellosis is seldom fatal. While the risk of getting salmonellosis is very small, there’s no need to take chances because cooking kills Salmonella.

Q.What usually causes salmonellosis?


A
.Salmonellosis outbreaks are most often associated with animal foods, including chicken, eggs, pork and cheese, but have also been reported related to cantaloupe, tomatoes, alfalfa sprouts, orange juice and cereal among other foods. Human carriers play a big role in transmitting some types of salmonellosis. Salmonella bacteria can easily spread from one food to another, too.

The majority of reported salmonellosis outbreaks involving eggs or egg-containing foods have occurred in food service kitchens and were the result of inadequate refrigeration, improper handling and insufficient cooking. If not properly handled, Salmonella bacteria can double every 20 minutes and a single bacterium can multiply into more than a million in six hours. Properly prepared egg recipes served in individual portions and promptly eaten are rarely a problem. You can ensure that your eggs will maintain their high quality and safety by using good hygiene, cooking, refrigeration and handling practices.

Q.Doesn’t the eggshell protect an egg from bacteria?

A. Yes and no. The egg has many natural, built-in barriers to help prevent bacteria from entering and growing. These protect the egg on its way from the hen to your home. Although it does help, the porous shell itself is not a foolproof bacterial barrier. For further safety, government regulations require that eggs be carefully washed with special detergent and sanitized. Then, the hen’s original protective shell coating is generally replaced by a thin spray coating of a tasteless, odorless, harmless, natural mineral oil. A shiny shell indicates oiling, rather than an unsafe or old egg.

Q.Are eggs the only source of Salmonella bacteria?

A. No. Salmonella bacteria are widely found in nature and easily spread. The bacteria can be found in the intestinal tracts of animals, birds, reptiles, insects and people. While the egg itself may not be contaminated when you buy it, it can become contaminated from various sources, such as hands, pets, other foods and kitchen equipment, too.

Composition of an Egg :-
Other protective barriers include the shell and yolk membranes and layers of the white which fight bacteria in several ways. The structure of the shell membranes helps prevent the passage of bacteria. The shell membranes also contain lysozyme, a substance that helps prevent bacterial infection. The yolk membrane separates the nutrient-rich yolk from the white.

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In addition to containing antibacterial compounds such as lysozyme, layers of the white discourage bacterial growth because they are alkaline, bind nutrients bacteria need and/or don’t provide nutrients in a form that bacteria can use. The thick white discourages the movement of bacteria. The last layer of white is composed of thick ropey strands which have little of the water that bacteria need but a high concentration of the white’s protective materials. This layer holds the yolk centered in the egg where it receives the maximum protection from all the other layers.
Q.Are Salmonella bacteria most likely to be found in the egg’s white or yolk?

A.Bacteria, if they are present at all, are most likely to be in the white and will be unable to grow, mostly due to lack of nutrients. As the egg ages, however, the white thins and the yolk membrane weakens. This makes it possible for bacteria to reach the nutrient-dense yolk where they can grow over time if the egg is kept at warm temperatures. In a clean, uncracked, fresh shell egg, internal contamination rarely occurs.

Q.What is being done about Salmonella in eggs?

A.The egg industry, the public health community and government agencies have been working diligently to deal with Salmonella enteritidis.

Egg industry programs start by keeping breeder flocks free of Salmonella. Ongoing research is dedicated to discovering how Se gets into flocks and how it might be blocked. The industry also uses strict quality-control practices and sanitation procedures all through production, processing and preparation. This includes testing chicks to be sure they’re free of Salmonella, bio-security (such as washing and sanitizing not only the eggs, but facilities, too) and other measures. To block Se from multiplying in the egg in the rare event it’s present, eggs are held at cool temperatures following packing and throughout transportation. Important, too, are industry education programs which encourage food preparers to use safe food-handling practices.

Along with state representatives, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are developing new national standards with the aim of reducing and eventually eliminating egg-related salmonellosis. The strategies will include a scientific, risk-based, farm-to-table plan covering production, processing, transport, storage, retail handling and delivery. The plan will also include education on the responsibilities of consumers, inspectors and food handlers at all levels.

Q.What is pooling and why is it not recommended?

A.The pooling of eggs, which is a common practice where eggs are broken out of their shell, mixing egg white and yolk, then held together in large quantities. This practice removes the egg’s natural barriers and creates a nutrient rich medium that is ideal for bacterial growth. Lack of washing hands and cutting boards with warm soapy water is another contributing factor in approximately one third of the U.S. food borne illness outbreaks reported by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Q.Can shell eggs be pasteurized or irradiated to destroy Salmonella?

A. A processor can pasteurize shell eggs if FDA has approved the process. Pasteurized shell eggs are available in some areas in the U.S. Shell eggs have recently been approved for irradiation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration but are not yet available.

Q.Are egg products pasteurized?…...

A. All egg products are required by law to be pasteurized. Approximately one third of all eggs produced in the U.S. today are broken and further processed to make egg products that are sold as retail or food service items or ingredients for commercial food manufacturers. These may be whole liquid egg, egg whites, or egg yolks, and may be liquid, frozen or dried. The safety of egg products is regulated by the Food Safety Inspection Service of the USDA and is ensured by mandatory pasteurization to destroy potentially harmful pathogens. Egg products are readily available for food service facilities to use and offer a convenient alternative to using raw shell eggs when large quantities are needed.

Source: Egg Safety Center

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