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Food Safety Tips about Eggs & Poultry

Important information about food safety in regard to eggs and poultry.

Salmonella and Eggs - What You Should Know:

  • There is an ever-growing concern about the threat of salmonella, bacteria that contaminate eggs and poultry.
  • We often eat eggs lightly cooked and even raw which pose a greater threat.
  • There is no way of knowing the degree of risk when eating raw or lightly cooked eggs.
  • It has been recommend that immuno-compromised patients, the very young and the elderly, all of whom are the most severely affected when stricken, should not eat raw or lightly cooked eggs.
  • Those who are consuming eggs that have not been cooked to 165°F (75°C) are doing so at their own risk.
  • You can take comfort in the knowledge that eggs in cakes, cookies and breads have been sufficiently cooked to be safe.

When Recipes Call for Raw or Lightly Cooked Eggs:

Although the overall risk of egg contamination is very small, the risk of foodborne illness from eggs is highest in raw and lightly cooked dishes. To eliminate risk and ensure food safety, replace all your recipes calling for raw or lightly cooked eggs with cooked egg recipes or use pasteurized eggs or egg products when you prepare them. To cook eggs for these recipes, use the following methods to adapt your recipes:

Cooking Whole Eggs for Use in Recipes: As a nutritious combination of egg whites and yolks, whole eggs should be fully cooked for assured safety in recipes that call for raw or lightly cooked eggs. The following method can be used with any number of eggs and works for a variety of recipes.

In a heavy saucepan, stir together the eggs and either sugar, water or other liquid from the recipe (at least 1/4 cup sugar, liquid or a combination per egg). Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the egg mixture coats a metal spoon with a thin film or reaches 160°F (70°C). Immediately place the saucepan in ice water and stir until the egg mixture is cool. Proceed with the recipe.

Cooking Egg Yolks for Use in Recipes – Because egg yolks are a fine growth medium for bacteria, cook them for use in mayonnaise, Hollandaise sauce, Caesar salad dressing, chilled soufflés, chiffons, mousses and other recipes calling for raw egg yolks. The following method can be used with any number of yolks.

  • In a heavy saucepan, stir together the egg yolks and liquid from the recipe (at least 2 tablespoons liquid per yolk).
  • Cook over very low heat, stirring constantly, until the yolk mixture coats a metal spoon with a thin film, bubbles at the edges or reaches 160°F (70°C).
  • Immediately place the saucepan in ice water and stir until the yolk mixture is cool.
  • Proceed with the recipe.

Cooking Egg Whites for Use in Recipes – Cooking egg whites before use in all recipes is recommended for full safety. The following method can be used with any number of whites and works for chilled desserts as well as Seven-Minute Frosting, Royal Icing and other frosting recipes calling for raw egg whites.

  • In a heavy saucepan, the top of a double boiler or a metal bowl placed over water in a saucepan, stir together the egg whites and sugar from the recipe (at least 2 tablespoons sugar per white), water (1 teaspoon per white) and cream of tartar (1/8 teaspoon per each 2 whites).
  • Cook over low heat or simmering water, beating constantly with a portable mixer at low speed, until the whites reach 160°F.
  • Pour into a large bowl. Beat on high speed until the whites stand in soft peaks.
  • Proceed with the recipe.

(Note that you must use sugar to keep the whites from coagulating too rapidly. Test with a thermometer as there is no visual clue to doneness. If you use an unlined aluminum saucepan, eliminate the cream of tartar or the two will react and create an unattractive gray meringue.)

Making an Italian meringue by adding hot sugar syrup to egg whites while beating them does not bring the egg whites to much above 125°F (50°C) and is not recommended except for dishes that are further cooked. If, however, you bring the sugar syrup all the way to the hardball stage (250 to 266°F | 120°C to 125°C), the whites will reach a high enough temperature. You can use a sugar syrup at hardball stage for Divinity and similar recipes.

Alternatives for Raw Egg Whites – You can use pasteurized dried or refrigerated liquid egg whites. Egg substitutes often contain gums and/or added salt which can hamper foaming.

Pasteurized dried and liquid egg whites on the retail market either contain no other ingredients – for recipes where little foaming is required – or contain only a whipping agent – for recipes that require a stable foam. Follow package directions to substitute dried or refrigerated liquid egg whites for raw egg whites or use about 2 tablespoons water and 2 teaspoons dried egg white or 2 to 3 tablespoons liquid egg white for each Large egg white.

Using Pasteurized Shell Eggs – Pasteurized shell eggs are heat-treated to destroy any bacteria, should they be present, and are especially suitable for preparing egg recipes that are not fully cooked, but may also be used for other recipes, including baked goods. The heating process may create cloudiness in the whites and increase the beating time needed for foam formation. When you separate pasteurized shell eggs for beating, allow up to about four times as much time for full foam formation to occur in egg whites as you would for the whites of regular eggs. Prepare other recipes as usual. You can keep pasteurized shell eggs refrigerated for at least 30 days from the pack date (a three-digit number on the short side of the carton which represents the day of the year, with 1 = January 1 and 365 = December 31), but do not freeze them.

If pasteurized shell eggs are not available in your area, use the cooking methods outlined above or, in place of raw egg whites, use pasteurized dried or liquid egg whites.

Cooking Temperature for Eggs:

  • Technique is essential to perfectly cooked eggs No matter what technique you use, it is essential to use low, gentle heat when cooking eggs as egg protein begins to thicken at only 144°F (60°C), and toughens rapidly.
  • The exception to the above rule would be omelets as the bottom is cooked rather quickly over medium-high heat, but the surface remains slightly runny, making for a soft interior when folded.
  • Serve cooked eggs on warm, not fire-hot plates, or they will continue to cook after they are removed from the pan.

USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline: Don't guess! Pick up the phone and call!

  • Not sure how long meat can be kept in the freezer?
  • Don't know how long to cook hamburger to kill those nasty illness-causing bacteria?
  • Don't just guess! Pick up the phone and talk to the food experts who staff the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Meat and Poultry hotline.
  • It's almost inconceivable in this world of impersonal voice mail, but living, breathing home economists, food technologists, and registered dietitians staff the hotline from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Eastern time every day of the year.
  • All you need to do is call (800) 535-4555. If you live in Washington, D.C. area, the number is (202) 720-3333.
  • For off-hour questions, the hotline offers an extensive selection of food safety recordings that you can hear 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with the help of your touch-tone phone.

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