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Tips to Reduce Your Risk of Salmonella from Eggs

A type of bacterium, Salmonella, can be on both the outside and inside of eggs that appear to be normal, and if the eggs are eaten raw or lightly cooked, the bacterium can cause illness.

Photos: Hands holding eggs.Eggs, poultry, meat, milk, and other foods are safe when handled properly. Shell eggs are safest when stored in the refrigerator, individually and thoroughly cooked, and promptly consumed after cooking. The larger the number of Salmonella bacteria present in the egg, the more likely the egg is to cause illness. Keeping eggs adequately refrigerated prevents any Salmonella present in the eggs from growing to higher numbers, so eggs should be refrigerated until they are needed.

Cooking reduces the number of bacteria present in an egg; however, a lightly cooked egg with a runny egg white or yolk still poses a greater risk than a thoroughly cooked egg. Lightly cooked egg whites and yolks have both caused outbreaks of SE infections. Cooked eggs should be consumed promptly and not be held in the temperature range of 40 to 140°F for more than 2 hours.

What are the specific actions I can take to reduce my risk of a Salmonella infection from eggs?

  1. Like other foods, keep eggs refrigerated at ≤40° F (≤4° C) at all times. Buy eggs only from stores or other suppliers that keep them refrigerated.
  2. Discard cracked or dirty eggs.
  3. Wash hands and all food contact surface areas (counter tops, utensils, dishes, and cutting boards) with soap and water after contact with raw eggs. Then disinfect the food contact surfaces using a sanitizing agent, such as bleach, following label instructions.
  4. Eggs should be thoroughly cooked until both the yolk and white are firm. Recipes containing eggs mixed with other foods should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160°F (71°C).
  5. Eat eggs promptly after cooking. Do not keep eggs warm or at room temperature for more than 2 hours.
  6. Refrigerate unused or leftover egg-containing foods promptly.
  7. Avoid restaurant dishes made with raw or lightly cooked, unpasteurized eggs. Restaurants should use pasteurized eggs in any recipe (such as Hollandaise sauce or Caesar salad dressing) that would result in consumption of raw or lightly cooked eggs.
  8. Consumption of raw or undercooked eggs should be avoided, especially by young children, elderly persons, and persons with weakened immune systems or debilitating illness.
  9. Consumers can consider buying and using pasteurized shell eggs, which are available for purchase from certain stores and suppliers.

Photo: A carton of eggs.How do I know if I have a Salmonella infection?

A person infected with Salmonella usually has a fever, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea beginning 12 to 72 hours after consuming a contaminated food or beverage. The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days, and most persons recover without antibiotic treatment. However, the diarrhea can be severe, and the person may be ill enough to require hospitalization.

Who is most at risk for getting a Salmonella infection?

The elderly, infants, and those with impaired immune systems may have a more severe illness. In these patients, the infection may spread from the intestines to the blood stream, and then to other body sites and can cause death unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics.

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