Cracking Down on Eggs
Use common sense
Inside the Egg continued...
The birds can become infected with salmonella in two ways:
Either they're born from an infected mother hen, or they pick up salmonella
along the way, perhaps when an unlucky fly lands on the hen's food tray and is
gobbled up. Farm eggs and free-range eggs are not immune from contamination
either, says Berry.
Testing the laying hens is the only way to determine infection.
But testing is a staggering task when you take into account the numbers: There
is one laying hen for every man, woman, and child in the United States -- about
260 million birds, according to FDA statistics. Finding the one infected egg in
20,000 is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Nevertheless, the FDA will
require testing of commercial flocks -- the ones who lay the eggs for market --
"People think it won't happen to them, but it can,"
Berry says. Better to assume bacterial organisms are there and act
Steps to Protect
Even if salmonella bacteria are within the egg, they still have
to gain access to the nutrient-rich yolk to multiply -- a process hindered when
the egg is fresh and the yolk membrane is intact. At that stage, the number of
bacteria is very small. Refrigeration provides additional protection by
limiting bacterial growth and preventing the breakdown of the membrane. So your
best bet is to buy fresh eggs -- check the sell-by date on the carton, if there
is one -- and keep them in the fridge. Also, make sure to use them within four
weeks of purchase.
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