Eggs are a spring holiday favorite and traditionally a part of festive meals and outdoor activities. Eggs can be a part of a healthy diet. Keep in mind that eggs are perishable just like raw meat, poultry and fish. To be safe, eggs must be properly stored, handled and cooked. Freshen up your food safety know-how with these “egg-cellent” tips:
Safe food handling. Always wash your hands with warm water and soap before and after handling raw eggs. To avoid cross-contamination, you should wash kitchen equipment and surfaces, such as utensils and counter tops, that come in direct contact with eggs.
Egg purchasing. Always buy eggs from a refrigerated case. Any bacteria present in the egg can grow quickly if stored at room temperature. Make sure eggs are not dirty or cracked.
Egg storage. Take eggs straight home from the store or market and refrigerate them right away. Check your refrigerator temperature with an appliance thermometer and adjust the refrigerator temperature to 40°F or below. Eggs should be stored in the carton in the coldest part of the refrigerator, not in the door. Do not wash eggs. Do not keep raw or cooked eggs out of the refrigerator for more than two hours.
Raw shell eggs in the carton can stay in your refrigerator for three to five weeks from the purchase date. Although the “Sell-By” date might pass during that time, the eggs are still safe to use. Once an egg begins to age, it loses moisture through its porous shell and begins to dry. The membranes that hold the egg structure begin to loosen and the yolk may not be anchored in the center of the white once the egg is broken. An older egg is ideal for preparing hard-cooked eggs, using in mixed dishes, or batters, since older eggs are easier to peel than a freshly laid egg.
Use raw shell eggs within three to five weeks. When fresh eggs are hard cooked, the protective coating is washed away so hard-cooked eggs should be refrigerated within two hours of cooking and used within a week. Use leftover yolks and whites within four days. If eggs crack on the way home from the store, break them into a clean container, cover tightly, and keep refrigerated for use within two days.
Freezing tips. Eggs should not be frozen in their shells. To freeze whole eggs, beat yolks and whites together. Egg whites and yolks can also be frozen by themselves. Use frozen eggs within a year. If eggs freeze accidentally in their shells, keep them frozen until needed. Defrost them in refrigerator. Discard any with cracked shells.
Do not eat raw eggs. This includes specialty shakes with raw eggs, Caesar salad, hollandaise sauce and any other foods like homemade mayonnaise, ice cream or eggnog made from recipes in which the raw egg ingredients are not cooked. These egg-based recipes should be updated to start with a cooked base or so that commercially prepared pasteurized eggs or egg substitutes are used. Use a thermometer and make sure the temperature of the cooked base reaches 160 °F.
Use safe egg recipes. Egg mixtures are safe if they reach 160 °F, so homemade ice cream and eggnog can be made safely from a cooked base. Heat the egg-milk mixture gently. Use a thermometer or be sure the mixture coats a metal spoon.
Dry meringue shells are safe. So are divinity candy and seven-minute frosting, made by combining hot sugar syrup with beaten egg whites.
Meringue-topped pies should be safe if baked at 350 °F for about 15 minutes. Chiffon pies and fruit whips made with raw, beaten egg whites cannot be guaranteed safe. Substitute whipped cream or whipped topping.
To make key lime pie safely, heat lime (or lemon) juice with raw egg yolks in a pan on the stove, stirring constantly, until the mixture reaches 160 °F. Combine this mixture with sweetened condensed milk and pour it into a baked piecrust. For meringue topping, bake as above.
For egg dishes such as quiche and casseroles, a knife inserted in the center should come out clean.
Cooking hard boiled eggs. Place a single layer of eggs in a saucepan. Add water to at least one inch above the eggs. Cover the pan, bring the water to a boil, and carefully remove the pan from the heat. Let the eggs stand (18 minutes for extra large eggs, 15 minutes for large, 12 minutes for medium). Immediately run cold water over the eggs. When the eggs are cool enough to handle, place them in an uncovered container in the refrigerator where they can air-dry. When shelled eggs are hard-cooked, the protective coating is washed away, leaving open pores in the shell where harmful bacteria could enter. Be sure to refrigerate eggs within two hours of cooking and use them within a week. Egg dishes such as deviled eggs or egg salad should be used within three to four days.
Serve cooked eggs and egg-rich foods immediately after cooking, or place in shallow containers for quick cooling and refrigerate at once. Don’t keep out of the refrigerator more than two hours. Use within three to four days. Recipes using raw eggs should be cooked immediately or refrigerated and cooked within 24 hours.
Tips for a Safe and Healthy Easter Egg Hunt:
• Eggs that are purchased one week before they are used will be easier to peel.
• Wash hands thoroughly before handling eggs and at every stage in the process. This includes cooking, cooling and dyeing.
• Eggs should always be cooked thoroughly. The Food and Drug Administration recommends cooking eggs until both the yolk and white are firm.
• Since cooked eggshells are porous, hard-boiled eggs should be air cooled – not left standing in water.
• Use only food-grade dye if you plan to eat Easter eggs which have been decorated.
• Do not color, hide, or eat any eggs with cracked shells.
• Eggshells are porous so be careful when hiding eggs. Avoid places where eggs might come in contact with pets, wild animals, insects or lawn chemicals.
Linda Minges is a registered dietitian with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service (gaston.ces.ncsu.edu). You can contact her for nutrition and food safety information at 704.922.2127 or email@example.com.