Eggs are a simple, cost effective and nutritious part of our diet but can be a source of food poisoning if not handled or cooked properly.
This is particularly true for dishes containing uncooked or minimally cooked eggs such as like egg nog, uncooked desserts such as mousses and tiramisu, hollandaise sauces, fresh mayonnaise, aioli, health shakes with added raw egg or steak tartar.
OzFoodNet has shown that consumption of foods containing raw or minimally cooked eggs is currently the single largest cause of foodborne Salmonella outbreaks. In their most recent nine-year survey period they have linked 68 food poisoning outbreaks to eggs with 1404 Australians becoming ill, 322 hospitalised and 2 deaths.
Also, according to a national Newspoll survey, conducted for the Food Safety Information Council, nearly 20% of Australians are taking risks by not handling uncooked foods containing raw egg correctly. Almost 1 in 5 surveyed did not know that homemade whole egg mayonnaise should be refrigerated straight away: with 9% incorrectly saying refrigerate after a few hours, 2% incorrectly saying it could be left out of the refrigerator overnight and 7% not knowing what to do at all.
Follow these tips to minimize your risk of food poisoning from eggs:
- Dishes containing raw eggs as an ingredient, that aren’t going to be cooked before being eaten, should not be served to those vulnerable people at greater risk from food poisoning such as small children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems.
- Egg meals should be cooked for these vulnerable people until the yolk in a boiled egg has started to become firm or eggs have become set in omelets or scrambled eggs.
- Check your eggs for visible cracks. If cracked it is safest to discard them or cook thoroughly, for example in a baked cake.
- If you accidentally drop pieces of shell into your egg mixture, it too could be contaminated and the mixture will need thorough cooking. Remove the shell pieces with a clean spoon or fork.
- Wash your hands with soap and running water and dry thoroughly before handling any food including eggs and after handling eggs so you don’t contaminate other food.
- If you are not going to cook the eggs further, don’t separate the yolk from the white using the shell as that could contaminate the raw egg. Invest in a plastic egg separator.
- Prepare raw egg foods just before you are going to consume them and refrigerate immediately at 5°C or below, so the bacteria cannot grow.
- Keep your eggs refrigerated in the cardboard box you purchased them in.
If you have your own hens, gather eggs from their nesting places daily. Carefully check any eggs for cracks and wipe off any visible dirt with a dry cloth or paper towel but don’t wash the eggs. Then wash your hands with soap and water and dry thoroughly. If your children and grandchildren have been helping to collect eggs get them to wash their hands too.
See Food Standards Australia New Zealand’s egg risk assessment.