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'Egg'cellent food safety tips keep us healthy

This time of year is popular for dyeing and decorating hard-boiled eggs. Food safety is important to remember when handling eggs to prevent unwanted foodborne illnesses. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration estimates 79,000 Americans get sick every year from Salmonella found in eggs. 

“Treat eggs just like meat and other poultry. Wash hands before and after touching, watch how long eggs sit at room temperature and use a food thermometer to know when it’s safe to eat,” says Lisa Peterson, University of Illinois Extension Nutrition & Wellness Educator.

Read ten tips to help protect against foodborne illness.

  • Wash Hands Often. Just like working with other types of meat, it is essential to wash hands with hot soapy water when handling eggs. Avoid getting bacteria from the eggs on other foods by washing surfaces, utensils, and cooking equipment the eggs have touched.
  • Do Not Wash Store Bought Eggs. When purchasing eggs from the grocery store, there is no need to wash them before use.
  • Check the Eggs for Chips or Cracks. Think of the outer shell and membrane of an egg as a barrier to prevent bacteria from getting into the egg. If an egg is cracked when buying, throw it out. Eggs that are chipped are exposed to more air, allowing bacteria to grow faster.
  • Eggs Should Be Stored in their Original Container. Store-bought eggs should be kept in their original carton and can be kept 4-5 weeks after purchase. Eggs are cleaned and sanitized before packaging. The EXCEPTION to this rule is when hard boiling eggs; do not put eggs back in the original container as this may increase the risk of Salmonella. Think of putting the cooked chicken back in the package raw chicken came in-Yuck! Store eggs in the coldest part of the refrigerator and not in the warmest area, the door.
  • Two Hour Rule. Eggs should not be out of refrigerator temperature (41°F or below) for more than two hours, even when hard-boiled. If eggs are used for hiding or decoration and left at room temperature longer than two hours, it is best to throw them away after use. One idea is to have a dozen eggs for decorating and another dozen for eating.  
  • No Runny Yolk. When cooking eggs, make sure the white of the egg is completely set and firm, and the yolk has thickened. With scrambled eggs, no liquid egg should be left when cooking. Egg dishes such as quiches or casseroles should reach an internal temperature of 160°F before eating.
  • Store Hard-Boiled Eggs (shelled or peeled) in the Refrigerator for One Week. The United States Department of Agriculture recommends keeping hard-boiled eggs for one week.  Once eggs are hard-boiled, label a clean container with the day they were boiled or toss date as a reminder.
  • Eggs with blood spots or cloudy whites are safe to eat. If an egg has a blood spot on it, it’s from the breaking of a blood vessel in the yolk during ovulation but does not mean the egg isn’t safe to eat. The cloudier the egg white, the fresher the egg.
  • Keep Eggs Cold When Transporting.  Pack eggs in an insulated cooler and with ice or freezer gel packs to keep the eggs cold. Avoid storing eggs in the warm trunk of a car, but rather in or below the passenger seat.
  • Know the Symptoms of Salmonella. The foodborne illness, Salmonella, typically occurs 12-72 hours after ingestion. In other words, you could eat food contaminated with Salmonella on Sunday and become sick that next Wednesday. Symptoms include fever, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and vomiting lasting between 4 and 7 days. Those at a higher risk for severe cases, which can lead to hospitalization, are young children, older adults, pregnant women, and weakened immune systems due to additional illnesses such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, or diabetes. 

Questions about food safety, nutrition, food preservation, or looking for recipes? Contact the local University of Illinois Extension office.

Source: Lisa Peterson, Extension Educator, Nutrition and Wellness