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Prairie Fare: Are Runny Eggs Safe to Eat?

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Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service food and nutrition specialist Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service food and nutrition specialist
Since eggs are rich in protein and moisture, they can support the growth of bacteria and should be handled safely in your kitchen.

By Julie Garden Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

When the server put the plate of food in front of me, I admired it. The plate featured colorful cantaloupe and strawberries. The main course included two English muffin halves topped with a slice of ham, a poached egg and hollandaise sauce.

I looked closely at the perfectly shaped eggs. I poked one with a fork, and the runny yolk oozed all around my plate.

I’m sure many people were thinking, “This is just how I like my eggs.”

Since I was a child, I have not liked the texture of runny eggs. Scrambled eggs are among my favorite foods, though.

I wasn’t alone in my preference. As I glanced around the crowd at the luncheon, I noticed many intact poached eggs, with people carefully carving around the eggs to get to their English muffins and ham.

As I cut my English muffin, I thought about the cooking recommendations for eggs. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration recommend that consumers cook eggs until the yolks and whites are firm. Egg-containing dishes should reach 160 degrees Fahrenheit.

In their recommendations for food service establishments, the Food and Drug Administration Food Code recommends that eggs for immediate service be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit, and the temperature should be maintained for 15 seconds.

The temperature recommendations are designed to inactivate Salmonella enteritidis, a type of bacteria that can be found in a small number of eggs. Because of this risk, restaurants that serve sunnyside up eggs often print a disclaimer in their menus to eat at your own risk.

According to the Egg Safety Center, egg white coagulates (becomes “set”) between 144 and 149 degrees Fahrenheit. Egg yolks coagulate at a temperature between 149 and 158 degrees Fahrenheit. Eggs can be “pasteurized” by holding them at a temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit for 3.5 minutes.

Since egg yolks coagulate at a temperature higher than the FDA temperature recommendation, the sea of runny egg yolk on my plate wasn’t so worrisome. The chef probably was aware of the time and temperature recommendation for pasteurizing eggs, too.

Therefore, I didn’t feel the need to stand up at the luncheon and announce, “Put down your forks in the name of food safety!” I might have gotten some strange glances.

Eggs are highly nutritious and a relatively inexpensive source of highly digestible protein, plus vitamins and minerals. However, since eggs are rich in protein and moisture, they can support the growth of bacteria and should be handled safely in your kitchen.

Consider these recommendations to enjoy safe, high-quality eggs:

  • Always buy eggs from a refrigerated grocery case. Open the carton and check the eggs to be sure you are not getting cracked or broken eggs.
  • Check out the Julien date (packing date) on the carton. You can use the eggs safely for four to five weeks beyond this packing date. As eggs age, you may notice quality changes as the eggs lose some moisture through their porous shells. The egg yolk may not be as firm, but the eggs can be used in mixed dishes.
  • Keep eggs cold. Home refrigerators should maintain food at 40 degrees or lower. Store egg cartons in the main section of your refrigerator, preferably on the middle or lower inside shelf. Avoid storing eggs in the refrigerator door, which usually has a higher temperature.
  • Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling eggs to avoid cross-contamination.
  • If you forget your eggs or egg-containing dish on the counter, check your watch. Remember the two-hour rule. Eggs, like other perishable foods, should not be at room temperature for more than two hours.
  • Refrigerate hard-cooked eggs and use within a week of preparation.

Here’s a recipe for a tasty appetizer or snack from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Recipe Finder.

Deviled Eggs

6 hard-cooked, peeled eggs

1/4 c. mayonnaise

1/8 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. pepper

Paprika (optional)

Hard-cook eggs by placing them in a saucepan and covering them with water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer; cook for 15 minutes. Immediately rinse the eggs under cold water to stop the cooking process and to make it easy to peel the shells. Refrigerate peeled eggs (without shells) until ready for use. Slice eggs into halves lengthwise. Remove the yellow yolks and save the whites. Place yolks in a 1-quart zip-type bag, along with the remaining ingredients (except the egg whites). Press out the air. Close the bag and knead until the ingredients are well blended. (Note: You also can put yolks in a bowl with other ingredients and mix together well until they look like a paste). Push the contents toward one corner of the bag. Cut about 1/2 inch from the corner of the bag. Squeezing the bag gently, fill the egg white hollows with the yolk mixture. (If you have used a bowl, spoon the mixture into the egg whites). Sprinkle with paprika if desired and chill to blend the flavors.

Makes six servings (two egg halves). Each serving has 140 calories, 12 grams (g) of fat, 6 g of protein and 0 g of carbohydrate.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)


NDSU Agriculture Communication – April 7, 2011

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187, julie.garden-robinson@ndsu.edu
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136, richard.mattern@ndsu.edu
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