When you shop in the grocery store, the most likely place to find eggs is in the refrigerated dairy aisle along with the other perishables. Storing eggs in this area is not an act of trickery on the part of the food store or a sinister plot to lure you to the milk and cheese. Unrefrigerated eggs are not always safe. In fact, proper storage reduces your likelihood of acquiring foodborne illnesses associated with eggs.
The most common type of food poisoning associated with eggs is salmonella enteritidis. Because eggs are perishable, they require proper storage. When eggs are improperly cooked or stored at temperatures above those recommended by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the risk of SE poisoning increases. According to Dr. Jacqueline Jacob and Tony Pescatore, Ph. D., of the University of Kentucky -- College of Agriculture, young children, pregnant women, the elderly and those with serious illnesses or compromised immune systems are especially vulnerable to SE poisoning.
When you purchase eggs from the grocery store, pop them into the refrigerator as soon as you get home. A refrigerator with a temperature setting of 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below is ideal for eggs and other perishables. According to the FDA website, eggs that remain unrefrigerated for two hours or more are no longer safe for consumption and should be discarded. Unrefrigerated eggs left in air temperatures above 90 degrees F are unsafe to eat after one hour.
The yolk of the egg is the perfect breeding ground for SE bacteria. Although this is where SE in an egg usually originates, it also can grow inside the white part of the egg. Refrigeration helps to keep bacteria inside the egg until the heat from cooking kills it. According to the Egg Safety Center, when a cold egg is left outside the refrigerator at room temperature, it will begin to sweat and promote the growth of SE.
The pasteurization process utilizes heat to kill all traces of SE in the eggs. Both dried and liquid eggs undergo pasteurization and most recently, some manufacturers are even including in-shell eggs in the process. Although pasteurization does not cook the eggs, it does make them a safer choice for recipes that require raw eggs. According to the FDA, pasteurized eggs are not subject to safe handling regulations, making refrigeration unnecessary. However, the FDA does recommend refrigeration for pasteurized in-shell eggs to maintain quality.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Guidance for Industry: Food Labeling: Safe Handling Statements, Labeling of Shell Eggs; Refrigeration of Shell Eggs Held for Retail Distribution; Small Entity Compliance Guide
- University of Kentucky -- College of Agriculture: Common Questions About Eggs
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Refrigerator Thermometers: Cold Facts About Food Safety
- Egg Safety Center: Egg Food Safety Frequently Asked Questions
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