As a child I loved to eat raw chocolate chip cookie dough. That was a long time ago, and back then it was probably a relatively safe thing to do, but things have changed. Today eggs may be contaminated with salmonella bacteria, on both the inside and the outside. Although the risk of getting sick from salmonella is relatively small, the infection can be dangerous, especially for the very young, the elderly and those weakened by illness.
Eggs are perishable and must be handled with care. Avoid foods made with raw, uncooked eggs like Caesar salad, homemade mayonnaise, Hollandaise sauce, homemade eggnog, homemade ice cream and raw cookie dough. These foods can be safely prepared by substituting frozen, pasteurized eggs for fresh whole eggs or made with recipes where the eggs are cooked to 160 F. Pasteurized eggs are packaged in containers that resemble a small milk carton and are available in some supermarkets in either the frozen food section or refrigerator case.
Eggs - even organic eggs - should be cooked until the white and the yolk is firm, not runny. Hard-cooked, firm-fried, and scrambled eggs are safe. Sunny side up, soft cooked, and over easy eggs are not recommended. An older egg, if fried, is flat and runs all over the skillet. It is safe to eat if it is cooked thoroughly.
To guard against breakage and odor absorption and to help prevent the loss of carbon dioxide and moisture which lowers egg quality, store raw shell eggs in their cartons on a middle or lower refrigerator shelf where the temperature will fluctuate less than on the door. Foods that contain eggs should not be left at room temperature for more than two hours because rapid bacterial growth can occur.
Refrigerated eggs will keep without significant quality loss for about four to five weeks beyond the pack date or about three weeks after you bring them home. For longer storage, beat whole eggs just until blended, pour into freezer containers, seal the containers tightly, label with the number of eggs and the date and freeze for up to one year. Substitute 3 tablespoons thawed whole egg for one large, fresh egg. Avoid freezing hard-cooked whole eggs or hard-cooked whites, as freezing causes them to become tough and watery.
Questions often arise regarding Easter eggs. Easter eggs that are used in baskets or for egg hunts are safe to eat if they have not been kept outside the refrigerator for more than two hours. Eggs that are kept at room temperature more than two hours lose moisture and quality, and are susceptible to bacterial growth. Hard-cooked eggs can be safely stored in the refrigerator for seven to 10 days.
Prepare eggs and egg dishes properly to prevent food safety concerns. After preparing foods that contain eggs, wash your hands and work surfaces that have come in contact with the raw eggs.
When eggs are handled properly, they are a safe and nutritious food. More information on food safety is available at your county extension office or on the Web at (www.ag.ndsu.nodak.edu).
(Gail Slinde is a Ward County Extension agent. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.)