The recent egg recalls have gotten a lot of attention in the media. While any foodborne illness is cause for concern, the egg recall does not mean consumers should shy away from eating eggs. Rather, this can be a "teachable moment" for consumers to think about how eggs should always be safely handled.
A bacterium, Salmonella Enteritidis, can be on both the outside and inside of eggs that appear to be normal, and if the eggs are eaten raw or undercooked, the bacterium can cause illness.
To put the egg recall into perspective, according to Krista Eberle, director of food safety programs for the Egg Safety Center and the United Egg Producers, the recall of 550 million eggs is less than one percent of the eggs produced in the U.S. each year. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that during the period from May 1 to Aug. 25, 2010, a total of 2,403 Salmonella illnesses were reported. But, based on previous experience, approximately 933 illnesses would have been expected during the same time period, even if there had not been the recent outbreak. That's because eggs always have the potential for Salmonella and if not handled and cooked properly, people may get sick.
Eggs, like meat, poultry, milk, and other foods, are safe when handled properly. The most effective way to prevent egg-related illness is by knowing how to buy, store, handle and cook eggs -- or foods that contain them -- safely. That's why the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires all cartons of shell eggs that have not been treated to destroy Salmonella must carry the safe handling statement "To prevent illness from bacteria keep eggs refrigerated, cook eggs until yolks are firm, and cook foods containing eggs thoroughly."
Yet some people still choose to use uncooked raw eggs in homemade ice cream, eggnog, Caesar salad dressing or whipped egg whites in chilled desserts. Or, some still like sunny-side-up fried eggs or a taste of raw cookie dough.
To eliminate the risk of foodborne illness, replace recipes calling for raw or lightly cooked eggs with cooked egg recipes or use pasteurized shell eggs or egg products when you prepare them.
If your holiday weekend menu calls for homemade ice cream, be sure to prepare it safely. Do not prepare it using raw uncooked eggs. You can still use your favorite recipe, but adjust the method as if you were preparing a custard or pudding from scratch. In a heavy saucepan, stir together the eggs and either sugar, water or milk from the recipe (at least ? cup sugar, liquid or a combination per egg). Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the egg mixture coats a metal spoon with a thin film or reaches 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Immediately place the saucepan in ice water and stir until the egg mixture is cool. Proceed with the recipe.
For more information on safely handling and cooking eggs and egg dishes or to answer any questions about eggs go to www.eggsafety.org/consumers/consumer-faq.... More information on food safety is available by contacting the Bourbon County Extension office or online at www.ksre.ksu.edu and www.rrc.ksu.edu.
Eggs are a nutritious and economical food. Next week I'll share more information about using eggs safely.
Editor's Note: Ann Ludlum is a K-State Research and Extension family and consumer sciences and 4-H extension agent assigned to Bourbon County. She may be reached at (620) 223-3720 or firstname.lastname@example.org.