The next time you buy eggs, take a close look at the carton. You'll find new, federally mandated instructions on how to safely handle and cook eggs. They're part of a government effort to prevent people from getting sick from the foodborne bacteria Salmonella enteritidis.
Every year, as many as four million Americans get sick from Salmonella and 500 die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. The nasty bug causes diarrhea, fever, vomiting and stomach cramps. It's particularly tough on young children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems.
While Salmonella has long been found in cracked eggs, it's only recently been found in uncooked, whole eggs. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimates that one out of every 20,000 eggs produced in the United States are contaminated. You can't see or smell the bacteriathe only way to be safe is to thoroughly cook your eggs. Use our Cook It Safe Calculator to get it right.
Salmonella lurks not just in eggs, but is found in beef, poultry and milk. In fact, all foods, including vegetables, can become contaminated with the bacteria. Food can also be contaminated if an infected person handles it without washing their hands. FoodFit's food safety article spells out how to prevent foodborne illness.
As of September 4, 2001, FDA regulations require that all egg cartons must carry the following label:
SAFE HANDLING INSTRUCTIONS: To prevent illness from bacteria: keep eggs refrigerated, cook eggs until yolks are firm, and cook foods containing eggs thoroughly.
To avoid getting sick, health officials also say consumers need to leave some old habits by the wayside. Chiefly, don't lick the bowl after making cake or cookie dough batter that contains raw eggs. Save nibbling for the baked goods. And steer clear of homemade foods that call for raw eggs, like mayonnaise, ice cream and Caesar salad dressing.
In tandem with the new safe handling instructions, the government now requires supermarkets, delis, restaurants and other retail food establishments to refrigerate eggs at 45 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. Cool temperatures slow the growth and development of Salmonella.
Washington has pledged to cut the number of illnesses due to contaminated eggs in half by 2005 and to eliminate the problem all together by 2010. The government campaignthe Egg Safety Action Planis a farm-to-table approach to ensure the safety of the nation's egg supply.