Your Health

Salmonella Risk Poses Conundrum For Egg Eaters

Fried eggs

A little extra time on the griddle is bad for salmonella and good for you. iStockphoto.com hide caption

itoggle caption iStockphoto.com

We like our scrambled eggs fluffy and a little bit runny, so a huge recall of eggs over salmonella hazards has us wondering what to do.

This week Wright County Egg, a big egg producer in Iowa, expanded an already large egg recall to extra jumbo, with some 380 million eggs now considered suspect because of salmonella.

Hundreds of people across the country have already gotten sick from the bad eggs, the government estimates.

Raw or undercooked eggs contaminated with salmonella pose a high risk of illness. And salmonellosis, as the infection is called, is no fun — fevers, diarrhea and vomiting. For people with weak immune systems the illness can be serious.

What should we do for breakfast?

We turned to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Marianna Gravely, who answered our questions in a live Web chat. (You can do it too. Go to the "Ask Karen" section of the USDA's Food Safety Education site to chat with a food safety specialist.)

"To kill salmonella you have to cook eggs to 160 degrees Fahrenheit," she wrote. "At that temperature they are no longer runny."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there are others ways to reduce the risk of bacterial poisoning from eating eggs, although the bottom line is still to cook them thoroughly.

Make sure your eggs are clean and have been kept in the fridge. Check to see that the shells don't have cracks and thoroughly clean utensils that have come in contact with raw eggs. Salmonella bacteria can live on both the inside and outside of eggs.

Also, it's best to eat eggs shortly after cooking them. Bacteria can multiply if eggs sit at room temperature for too long.

For recipes that require soft yolks, Gravely writes that consumers should use pasteurized eggs.

Chef Eric Berlin, who's made online videos about the fundamentals of cooking and food safety, says just because eggs are a little runny doesn't mean they're undercooked exactly. He's still OK with eating eggs Benedict, for example. "It's a personal judgment call," he concedes, as is with many things in the world of food.

Some egg connoisseurs argue that avoiding raw or runny eggs isn't worth the deprivation because the risk of contamination is so low. Still, the CDC figures about 1 in 50 consumers come in contact with a contaminated egg each year, so the risk isn't nothing.

We asked Gravely what a lover of eggs sunny-side up should do. She suggests trying them over easy instead: "It's almost as good and safer."

Finally, the current recall doesn't affect processed eggs like liquid egg whites or dried egg products. Consumers should watch out for shell eggs. The affected brands in the recalls are: Lucerne, James Farms, Albertsons, Mountain Dairy, Ralph’s, Boomsma’s, Sunshine, Hillandale, Trafficanda, Farm Fresh, Shoreland, Lund, Dutch Farms, Kemps and Pacific Coast.

If you find these eggs in your fridge, chuck 'em or, return them to the store for a refund.

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