Eggnog: Spike And Let It Sit, For Safety

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A perennial holiday dilemma: Will alcohol kill bacteria like salmonella in homemade eggnog? Microbiologists Vincent Fischetti and Raymond Schuch, from The Rockefeller University, ran an experiment in the lab to see whether salmonella can survive in a vat of spiked eggnog.

IRA FLATOW, host:

Up next, our video producer Flora Lichtman is here.

Hi, Flora.

FLORA LICHTMAN: Hi, Ira.

FLATOW: Got our Video Pick of the Week up on our website today?

LICHTMAN: Yes, we do. And it's something a little different.

FLATOW: Ooh.

LICHTMAN: It's a rare thing when the Video Pick of the Week breaks news.

FLATOW: Ooh.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: Well, let me give you the introduction you need. This just in.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LICHTMAN: This just in. And it's - actually, it's news - science news about a dilemma that I think is on a lot of people's minds right now.

FLATOW: Which is?

LICHTMAN: Will the alcohol I add to my homemade eggnog kill any dangerous bacteria - you know, namely salmonella, because they're raw eggs. And I - okay.

FLATOW: I remember. This must be part two to the eggnog saga.

LICHTMAN: It's true. We are recycling the idea. We did do it last year. But it's good. It's like real science. We're adding to this body of knowledge on this important holiday question.

FLATOW: We have been doing, or helping - getting help with Rockefeller University.

LICHTMAN: Yes.

FLATOW: And what happens if you - what's the right word? Spike?

LICHTMAN: Spike. Definitely spike.

FLATOW: Spike your eggnog...

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: ...with lots of alcohol?

LICHTMAN: Right. I mean, and I think the important thing is we've gotten help because this lab has a vested interest in this question. It's Vince Fischetti and Raymond Schuch, who are in the microbiology - are microbiologists at Rockefeller.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm.

LICHTMAN: And they have been making this eggnog with raw eggs for 40 years. It dates back to this famous scientist, Dr. Rebecca Lancefield, who worked there. And so for 40 years, they've been doing raw eggnog, and now they're investigating it.

FLATOW: And raw eggs is dangerous kind of eggnog, right? Because the salmonella could grow in it.

LICHTMAN: That is the question. Can the salmonella survive in spiked eggnog? And here's another little twist: They actually make the eggnog at Thanksgiving and let it sit in a refrigerator for six weeks - which sounds to me, kind of, like, disgusting.

FLATOW: Yeah. And - but there's a surprising result that happens there.

LICHTMAN: It's very surprising.

FLATOW: And should we give it away? Just let people know, you have to go to our website at sciencefriday.com and look at the Video Pick of the Week.

LICHTMAN: I think you'll - I think this is news you can use.

FLATOW: This is news you can use. But we want to warn them. Don't try this at home.

LICHTMAN: No - a big disclaimer. I mean, this is a single study, sample size of one. So take it with a grain of salt. This is not like this theory of evolution.

FLATOW: Right. Right.

LICHTMAN: We are really at the forefront of this body of (unintelligible).

FLATOW: And they inject a whole lot of live salmonella into this eggnog.

LICHTMAN: Yeah. They really do a test. They make a vat of eggnog. This is the experiment. They make a vat of eggnog and they put in salmonella, like, 10 doses, as if you were making an eggnog batch with every egg had salmonella in it. And then they watch to see what happens.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm. And then...

LICHTMAN: And we find out.

FLATOW: And we find out. And then they add a whole bunch of alcohol.

LICHTMAN: Yeah. That is key, I think.

FLATOW: Key. A whole bunch of liquor, too. Let's call it what it is.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: But then it sits in the refrigerator for weeks, right?

LICHTMAN: Right. It sits in the fridge for weeks.

FLATOW: And we find out what happens to the drinkability, shall we call it?

LICHTMAN: Yes, the drinkability.

FLATOW: Drinkability - the drinkability of the eggnog after all these weeks sitting in this brew.

LICHTMAN: Yeah. And I want to - I mean, one little thing that might pique your interest is that after they add all this alcohol - which is, like, a pint of rum and a quart of brandy or bourbon, it doesn't kill the salmonella right away.

FLATOW: No.

LICHTMAN: So...

FLATOW: That's the surprising part. And if you go to our website at sciencefriday.com, you can watch them making - Flora went to their lab again, follow-up from last year, and they continued to do this and advance the science.

LICHTMAN: Because they are advancing the science on this.

FLATOW: Advancing the science. And watch Flora - we have the whole recipe. It goes on for quite a few minutes. It's quite interesting. It's better than a cooking show. I don't think the "Iron Chef" is going to have these guys on.

LICHTMAN: Watch out, Alton Brown.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: There you go. See if he can make it better. And you'll watch what happens in making this eggnog and what happens after it gets laced with this alcohol.

LICHTMAN: And one more disclaimer: If you really want to be safe, you know, there's always the stuff on the shelves.

FLATOW: Right. Stick with that.

LICHTMAN: Stick with that.

FLATOW: All right. Flora, thank you very much.

LICHTMAN: Thanks, Ira.

FLATOW: And there you have your eggnog recipe for this year.

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