This time of year, many celebrations wouldn’t be complete without eggs—as decorations, as appetizers, in making seasonal baked goods, or as part of a healthy meal.
Like meat, poultry, seafood and produce, eggs are perishable and need to be handled properly to prevent foodborne illness. Occasionally, eggs with clean, uncracked shells can be contaminated with bacteria, specifically Salmonella Enteritidis.
Barbara Ingham, University of Wisconsin-Extension food science specialist, has some tips to help you enjoy eggs and sidestep foodborne illness during your spring celebrations.
Clean hands are key, says Ingham. Always wash your hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after handling food, especially raw eggs. “Take those few extra seconds to wash your hands after cracking eggs, and before continuing with your other cooking chores,” says Ingham.
Bacteria love to grow in moist, protein-rich foods. Refrigeration slows bacterial growth, so it’s important to refrigerate eggs and egg-containing foods. “Your refrigerator should be at 40 °F or below,” says Ingham. “Store eggs in the carton, not on a rack on the door of your refrigerator where they will warm up quickly each time the door opens.”
Whether you like your breakfast eggs scrambled or fried, always cook eggs until the yolks and whites are firm. Egg-based casseroles should reach an internal temperature of 160°F, as measured with a thermometer.
Tasting is tempting, but licking a spoon or tasting raw cookie dough from a mixing bowl can be risky, advises Ingham. Bacteria could be lurking in the raw eggs. Prepared cookie dough that you buy in the grocery refrigerator case is made with pasteurized eggs; choose this type of dough if young family members will be helping to work with raw cookie dough.
To make perfect hard-boiled eggs for decorating and hunting, only use eggs that have been refrigerated, and discard those that are cracked or dirty. Remove eggs from the refrigerator and place a single layer of eggs in a saucepan. Add cool water to at least one inch above the eggs. Cover the pan, bring the water to a full rolling boil. Turn off the heat and let the eggs stand, covered (18 minutes for extra large eggs, 15 minutes for large, 12 minutes for medium). Drain. 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. Once dry, cover and store for up to one week.
When decorating, be sure to use food-grade dyes. It is safe to use commercial egg dyes, liquid food coloring, and fruit-drink powders, Ingham says. When handling eggs, be careful not to crack them. Otherwise, bacteria could enter the egg through the cracks in the shell.
Keep hard-cooked Easter eggs chilled on a shelf inside the refrigerator, not in the refrigerator door. Hide the eggs in places that are protected from dirt, pets and other potential sources of bacteria. Remember the two-hour rule, and make sure the “found” eggs are back in the refrigerator or consumed within two hours. Remember that hard-boiled eggs are only safe to eat for one week after cooking.