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Houston Department of Health and Human Services > Food Inspection and Safety (Consumer Health) > Food Safety Tips > The Egg and You: A Guide to Safe Eating

The Egg and You: A Guide to Safe Eating

We scramble them for breakfast, poach them for lunch and boil them for dinner -- but are you sure that they won't make you sick? It's true: the incredible, edible egg is one of the potentially hazardous foods associated with foodborne illness that you can serve to your patrons.

What's so remarkable is that not even as far back as ten years ago, people didn't worry about their eggs. Shell eggs were considered one of the safest ingredients to use in the kitchen. Most food safety manuals exempt "clean, whole, uncracked, odor-free shell eggs" from their definition of potentially hazardous foods. One didn't even have to worry about refrigerating them. Eggs could be sold and set out at room temperature and nobody would blink twice about them.   

Not anymore. With more and more cases of salmonella food poisoning breaking out from coast to coast, people are definitely wary about more than just their cholesterol count. According to scientists and epidemiologists, fresh eggs have been found to carry salmonella enteritidis within their shells directly from the hens. It's known in scientific language as a "transoverian infection."

If eggs are kept below the danger level of 45 degrees Fahrenheit, the chance of any type of cross-contamination from salmonella enteritidis are slim. But if eggs are left out too long at room temperature, or if they are eaten raw or partially cooked, the chance of a foodborne disease is pretty good. This bacterial infection is particularly lethal to the very young, the elderly, pregnant women and persons with immune-deficiency disorders.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued the following guidelines for handling eggs and egg-rich foods, such as quiches and custards:

  • Avoid serving raw eggs and foods that contain raw eggs (Caesar salad, Hollandaise sauce). Commercial food products are made with pasteurized eggs and are much safer for human consumption.

  • Cook eggs until the yolk and white are firm and not runny in order to kill bacteria.

  • Substitute pasteurized eggs and egg products for shell eggs whenever possible. These types of products have already been heat treated to destroy bacteria.

  • If you use shell eggs, make sure and serve cooked eggs and egg-rich foods immediately after cooking (serve at 140 degrees Fahrenheit or higher). Chances of salmonella bacteria being present are slim.

  • If you refrigerate a large portion of leftover eggs or egg-rich foods, do so in small batches to ensure quick cooling.

If these guidelines are practiced faithfully, you can rest assured that you and your customers will still be clamoring for their eggs at breakfast, lunch and dinner.

For this and any other food safety related information, please contact the Houston Department of Health and Human Services Bureau of Consumer Health at 713-794-9200.

Contact the HDHHS Bureau of Consumer Health Services