The Food and Drug Administration requires that safe handling instructions be included in the label of shell eggs that have not been treated specifically to kill Salmonella bacteria.
The statement reads, “To prevent illness from bacteria: Keep eggs refrigerated, cook eggs until yolks are firm, and cook foods containing eggs thoroughly.”
Angela Treadaway, a food safety expert with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System in Walker County, said these simple steps are the best ways to prevent sickness from Salmonella.
“Things have changed from when we grew up on the farm. They’re trying to make eggs safe, but the truth is that potentially all eggs will have Salmonella in them,” Treadaway said.
Salmonella bacteria are found in the intestinal tracts of animals and humans. It can be found on egg shells or inside the egg if the hen was infected, according to the Egg Safety Center.
Even eggs that aren’t contaminated in the store can become so through inadequate refrigeration, improper handling and insufficient cooking.
The Egg Safety Center reports that Salmonella can double every 20 minutes, meaning that a single bacterium can become a million bacteria in six hours.
Heat kills Salmonella. Treadaway said that eggs should be cooked thoroughly to 145 degrees.
“Not everybody is going to take a thermometer and check, but the just make sure it isn’t runny or raw,” Treadaway said.
Raw eggs are a common ingredient in homemade ice cream, cake batter and cookie dough. Cooks can combine the eggs with milk and heat to 160 degrees to ensure these recipes’ safety.
Proper refrigeration is another key step in keeping Salmonella under control.
Consumers should always buy eggs from a refrigerated case. At home, store eggs on shelves inside the refrigerator instead of in the door.
“They’ll get warmer in the door because the door is opened so much,” Treadaway said.
Refrigerated eggs should not be left out more than two hours because bacteria can begin to grow as the egg sweats.
If refrigerated continuously, eggs will remain fresh for four to five weeks. Hard cooked eggs are safe in the refrigerator for up to one week.
Eggs that float in cold water are not fresh but may not necessarily be spoiled.
Someone who eats an egg containing Salmonella may still be safe as long as the egg was cooked and handled properly, according to the Egg Safety Center.
Groups who have a high risk of experiencing complications from Salmonella include infants, pregnant women, the elderly and others with weakened immune systems.
Treadaway said although there is reason for concern about Salmonella, no food can ever really be bacteria-free.
“It probably would scare us to death if we knew how many germs and microrganisms we eat every day,” Treadaway said.