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Steps to Protect continued...

Eggs that are cracked into a bowl, beaten together, and allowed to sit also present a risk. "If the bacteria are there, they will multiply to high levels very quickly at room temperature," says Berry. For this reason, she recommends cooking eggs within two hours of cracking them.

But bacteria already in the egg don't cause all cases of salmonella infection. Contamination can also occur in your kitchen. Salmonella-free eggs may not stay that way if you whisk them with a fork that was also used to handle contaminated raw poultry, for example. "Remember to wash everything, including your hands, that has come into contact with raw food before handling something that won't be cooked," Berry says.

Cook Them Well or Use Pasteurized Eggs

In the rare chance that you do buy an egg contaminated with salmonella bacteria, there's some reassuring news: Cooking kills the bacteria. There is no way for you to know at home if the egg is contaminated -- the egg won't look, smell, or taste different from any other egg, says Marjorie Davidson, a food safety education expert at the FDA. Because of this, she recommends cooking all eggs thoroughly: Salmonella bacteria are killed at temperatures above 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Both the FDA and USDA recommend cooking raw (unpasteurized) eggs until the yolks and whites are completely firm.

And don't forget about dishes containing eggs, like stuffing and meatloaf. They also need to be cooked thoroughly, says Davidson. She suggests buying a cooking thermometer. Check all dishes containing eggs to make sure the temperature is 160 degrees or higher in the center when finished cooking.

Pasteurized eggs are available in test markets around the country for those who want to make, for example, a protein shake containing an uncooked egg or sunny-side-up eggs with a runny yolk. These eggs have been heated to 145 degrees Fahrenheit for three and a half minutes. Egg products in containers, such as Egg Beaters (essentially egg whites that have been colored), are also pasteurized.

"Pasteurized eggs are available in some areas, but not everywhere," says Davidson. "If you can't find pasteurized eggs, many chefs and cookbooks have done an excellent job of converting raw recipes -- like eggnog -- to cooked ones."

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