When Bill Clinton was president in the 1990s, his Council on Food Safety identified eggs as a food that poses a risk to children, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems. The Clinton administration launched a safety plan that aimed to eliminate Salmonella contamination in eggs entirely by 2010.
Unfortunately, the goal was not met. This month, a vast outbreak of Salmonella food poisoning prompted the recall of half a billion eggs produced in Iowa. In California, UC Cooperative Extension worked with other agencies and the egg industry to create the California Egg Quality Assurance Program, which is implemented voluntarily by 95 percent of the state’s egg producers. California-produced eggs have been free of Salmonella for the past 10 years.
However, not all eggs sold in California are produced in the state. In fact, the FDA announced this week that Trafficanda Egg Ranch of Van Nuys distributed eggs affected by the recall to grocery stores and foodservice companies in California.
That fact underscores the importance of using basic egg safety measures now and whenever Californians consume eggs, according to UC Cooperative Extension nutrition, family and consumer sciences advisor Cathi Lamp.
“Americans consume an average of 234 eggs per person per year,” Lamp said. “Since infected eggs still make it from the farm to the table, we have more work to do.”
People with health problems, the very young, the elderly and pregnant women (and the unborn child) are particularly vulnerable to Salmonella infections and should be extra careful with eggs, but everyone is advised to take precautions to minimize the risk of being exposed to Salmonella bacteria.
Lamp suggests the following precautions:
- Modify recipes for foods that were traditionally eaten with raw eggs, including smoothies, Caesar salad dressing, Hollandaise sauce, cookie dough, mayonnaise, ice cream and egg nog. If consumers wish to eat foods with "raw" eggs, prepare them with a pasteurized egg product like Egg Beaters.
- At the store, choose grade A or AA eggs with clean, uncracked shells.
- Make sure the home refrigerator is running at 40°F. Store eggs in the coldest part of the refrigerator, not in the door. Don’t wash eggs, as they have a protective coating applied at the packing plant.
- Use raw eggs within three to five weeks. Hard-cooked eggs will keep for one week. Refrigerate leftover cooked egg dishes and use within three to four days.
- Cook eggs until both the yolk and the white are firm. Scrambled eggs should not be runny.
- Casseroles and other dishes containing eggs should be cooked to 160°F (72°C). Use a food thermometer to be sure.
- Wash hands, utensils, equipment and work areas with hot, soapy water before and after contact with eggs and egg-rich foods.
- Avoid keeping eggs or foods containing eggs out of the refrigerator more than 2 hours.