In light of the recent recall of shell eggs, I would like to address the safety of eggs and egg products. First, the risk of an egg being contaminated with Salmonella Enteritidis is very low. A joint USDA/FDA risk assessment for Salmonella Enteritidis estimated the risk at 1 in 20,000 eggs (1996). To reduce the risk of consuming eggs which might contain Salmonella Enteritidis, there are some important safe handling practices to keep in mind:
- Eggs or leftover egg dishes should be kept refrigerated, then cooked and/or reheated thoroughly prior to eating.
- Avoid cross contamination of raw egg product to cooked products.
- When preparing dishes that require undercooked eggs (mayonnaise, salad dressings, Hollandaise sauce, Caesar salad dressing, etc.), use pasteurized egg products. Retail and foodservice establishments should also use pasteurized egg products rather than pooled raw or undercooked shell eggs.
Pasteurized eggs are a good choice for vulnerable populations because they receive a heat treatment that destroys any potential pathogens in the egg. Pasteurized eggs can be used in the preparation of all products but should specifically be used when preparing dishes that require raw or undercooked eggs.
The U.S. Congress passed the Egg Products Inspection Act (EPIA) in 1970 requiring that all egg products distributed for consumption be pasteurized. In the 40 years since EPIA, there have been no recorded outbreaks of salmonellosis linked to pasteurized egg products. Pasteurization requirements for eggs vary based on the type of egg products involved and the form of egg product—liquid or dried. Egg product production in the United States is accomplished under the continuous supervision of USDA inspectors who assure strict time and temperature requirements are followed.
Pasteurized egg products should be treated as raw eggs. Processors refrigerate egg liquid after breaking, unless the product is immediately pasteurized. Similarly, egg products are refrigerated after pasteurization at temperatures that inhibit bacteria growth.
Although pasteurized refrigerated eggs may have a limited shelf life of a few weeks, both frozen and dried egg products, when stored properly will maintain a stable shelf life for months. The International Egg Pasteurization Manual provides more detailed information on pasteurization methods, times, and temperatures for egg products.
Professor of Poultry Science
Director of the National Egg Processing Center