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The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) say that nobody should eat unpasteurized raw eggs as they may contain bacteria that can cause illness.
However, in recent years, consumers have developed a desire for raw, untreated food products. This has contributed to the recent increase in foodborne parasitic infections.
In this article, we discuss whether it is safe to eat raw eggs.
Is it safe to eat raw eggs?
Public health officials do not recommend eating raw, unpasteurized eggs, as they may contain bacteria that cause illness.
Eggs are a nutrient-dense food when a person prepares them without adding solid fats, sugar, refined starches, or sodium.
A nutrient-dense food meets food group recommendations within calorie and sodium limits.
The USDA do not recommend that people eat raw, unpasteurized eggs, but state that people can eat in-shell pasteurized eggs without cooking them.
The 2015-2020 dietary guidelines for Americans recommend using pasteurized eggs or egg products when preparing foods that require raw eggs, such as:
- smoothies and other drinks
- hollandaise sauce
- ice cream
- uncooked cookie dough
Some groceries sell pasteurized eggs. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommend keeping pasteurized eggs in the refrigerator.
Risks of eating raw eggs
Some people prefer to consume raw or undercooked eggs. However, the FDA estimate that about 79,000 people develop foodborne illnesses, and 30 people die each year due to eating eggs contaminated with Salmonella.
Some hens carry Salmonella typhimurium and Salmonella enteritidis in their reproductive organs.
Factors that influence the contamination of chicken eggs with Salmonella include:
- how many chickens in the flock
- the age of the flock
- the stress levels of the birds
- their diet
- hygiene and cleanliness
How to prevent contamination
Heating eggs in hot water can help prevent contamination.
Ways to control or prevent Salmonella include pasteurization and irradiation.
Pasteurization involves heating the eggs with hot water or hot air for a very specific period of time.
The USDA recommend heating eggs at a variety of temperatures to pasteurize individual parts of the egg. For example, egg yolks require heating at a minimum temperature of 60°C for 6.2 minutes.
Pasteurization significantly reduces Salmonella contamination but does not affect the nutritional quality or flavor of the egg.
Irradiation involves exposing the eggs to a dose of radiation, but this method can affect the quality of the egg.
The link between salmonella and poultry
In the United States, there is an increasing interest in raising backyard chickens. Researchers from the USDA surveyed chicken owners to find out how they care for and handle their flocks.
The researchers estimate that less than 50% of the chicken owners in Miami and Los Angeles and only 63.5% of chicken owners in Denver who answered the questionnaire were aware of the link between Salmonella infection and poultry.
One study conducted in Australia asked participants about their consumption of raw eggs. While 84% of people answered that they did not consume raw eggs, 86% of participants admitted to licking the raw batter from bowls, spoons, and spatulas.
The researchers highlighted that many people are unaware that consuming raw eggs can cause illness.
The researchers also looked at the food handling practices of a variety of people, finding that environmental health officers and food handlers had safer food handling habits than other professional people. This might indicate that educating people on how to handle food safely may improve food safety in the home.
Who is at risk of infection?
People who consume raw or undercooked eggs can get Salmonella infection, which doctors also call salmonellosis. According to the FDA, the symptoms of a Salmonella infection occur within 12 to 72 hours of eating contaminated food.
People who have Salmonella infection may experience the following symptoms:
The FDA also note that infants, children, older adults, and pregnant women are at higher risk of getting sick from Salmonella infection.
People with a compromised immune system are also at higher risk of developing foodborne illnesses. Individuals with diabetes, cancer, HIV or AIDS, or those who have transplanted organs should avoid consuming untreated raw eggs.
It is safer for people living with these conditions to consume pasteurized eggs.
In addition to food safety concerns, consuming any raw egg whites interferes with the body’s ability to absorb biotin. Biotin plays a critical role in fat and carbohydrate metabolism, and a deficiency can impair insulin function, which may worsen blood sugar management.
How to handle and cook eggs
The FDA recommend storing eggs in the fridge at or below 40°F.
The FDA recommend the following tips to help people handle eggs safely:
- To avoid getting sick from eggs, buy refrigerated eggs, and store them in the fridge at or below 40°F.
- If an eggshell is cracked or dirty, do not use it.
- It is essential that people wash their hands, utensils, and kitchen counters with hot, soapy water before and after they handle raw eggs.
- Check the carton. The FDA places safe handling instructions on cartons of untreated eggs. Pasteurized eggs may have a label stating that the carton contains treated eggs.
The USDA offer tips on how to cook eggs:
- Cooking options include poaching, hard-boiling, scrambling, frying, and baking.
- Always cook the whites thoroughly and ensure the yolks are firm.
- For baked dishes, such as casseroles, people should make sure the internal temperature is at least 160°F before eating.
- When making homemade ice cream and eggnog, gently heat the egg-milk mixture to 160°F.
The nutritional information of eggs will differ slightly depending on how people prepare them.
The following table from the USDA outlines the nutritional values of 1 large whole, raw egg.
Egg yolk is highly nutritious and provides most of the essential amino acids a person needs, as well many vitamins and other micronutrients, such as choline. One large egg provides approximately 27% of the daily value of choline.
Eggs also contain high amounts of fatty acids, which also help the body’s metabolism.
Eggs are a nutritious, protein-rich food that people can cook in a variety of different ways. Some recipes may require raw eggs.
However, in these cases, the FDA recommend using pasteurized eggs. If a person prefers to use unpasteurized eggs, it is important to follow the FDA safe handling instructions found on egg cartons. For optimal biotin absorption, make sure to cook egg whites before eating them.
People can get very sick from eating raw eggs because of Salmonella contamination. Older adults, pregnant women, infants, and immunocompromised people should avoid eating raw eggs or foods that contain raw eggs.
Is the egg diet effective?
There are several versions of the egg diet, all of which involve eating eggs as the main source of protein and restricting other foods. Eggs contain many nutrients, and the diet may help people lose weight. However, they contain no fiber, and they can be high in cholesterol. Find out more about the pros and cons.
Everything you need to know about salmonella
Salmonella refers to a group of bacteria that infect the intestinal tract. The illness can result in typhoid fever, food poisoning, or gastroenteritis. Symptoms include abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and vomiting, and they tend to appear within 12–72 hours of consuming contaminated water or food. Learn more here.
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