March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.
Eggs are a versatile, nutritious and economical food. From scrambled in a burrito to fried on a burger, eggs are an easy go-to food for breakfast, lunch or dinner. However, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, each year about 142,000 illnesses are caused by consuming eggs contaminated with Salmonella. You can play a key role in preventing egg-related food poisoning by knowing how to safely buy, store, cook and eat eggs.
Shop Safely and Store Correctly
Keep eggs safe by making wise choices at the grocery store and storing your eggs in the proper place.
- Only buy eggs if sold from a refrigerator or refrigerated case.
- Open the carton to check that eggs are clean and the shells are not cracked.
- Refrigerate promptly to 40°F or below.
- Store eggs in their original carton, in the coldest part of the refrigerator and use them within three weeks for best quality.
Keep Clean and Cook Thoroughly
Make sure the food preparation area is clean and cook eggs thoroughly until yolks are firm and no visible egg liquid remains. Pay special attention to this step if you are at a high risk of food poisoning because undercooked eggs are an even greater concern to these individuals.
- Wash hands, utensils, equipment and work surfaces with hot, soapy water before and after they come in contact with eggs or any egg-containing product.
- Avoid washing eggs after purchase because it can remove the coating that protects eggs from bacteria that is applied during processing.
- Cook eggs until both the yolk and the white are firm. Scrambled eggs should not be runny.
- Casseroles and other dishes containing eggs should be cooked to 160°F. Use a food thermometer to ensure food has reached a safe temperature.
- Avoid foods with raw eggs such as Caesar salad dressing, eggnog and Hollandaise sauce, or make sure to use pasteurized egg products with the USDA inspection mark. Pasteurized egg products are widely available.
Eat Quickly and Save Leftovers Smartly
Bacteria can multiply rapidly if food is not stored properly or served safely.
- Eat eggs promptly after cooking. Do not keep eggs warm or at room temperature, also known as the "danger zone" (between 40ºF and 140ºF), for more than two hours.
- Eggs and egg dishes, such as quiches or soufflés, may be refrigerated for serving later but should be thoroughly reheated to 165°F before serving.
- Refrigerate leftover cooked egg dishes within two hours and use within three to four days. When refrigerating a large amount of a hot egg leftovers, divide into several shallow containers so it will cool quickly.
- Use hard-boiled eggs (in the shell or peeled) within one week of cooking.
- Use frozen eggs within one year. Eggs should not be frozen in their shells. To freeze whole eggs, beat yolks and whites together and place in packaging designed for the freezer. Egg whites can also be frozen by themselves.
Dining Out and On-the-Go
Keep food safety in mind outside of the home, whether dining in a restaurant or eating on-the-go.
- Avoid restaurant dishes made with raw or lightly cooked, unpasteurized eggs like Caesar salad dressing, Hollandaise, mousses and tiramisu. Ask your server if the restaurant uses pasteurized eggs for these dishes, and only order if they do.
- Cooked eggs for a picnic should be packed in an insulated cooler with enough ice or frozen gel packs to keep them cold. Place a refrigerator thermometer in the cooler to ensure foods stay at 40ºF or below.
- If taking cooked eggs to work or school, pack them in an insulated container with a small frozen gel pack or a frozen juice box.