Before you crack that egg, how safe is it?


September 18, 1990|By Colleen Pierre, R.D. | Colleen Pierre, R.D.,Colleen Pierre, a registered dietitian, is the nutrition consultant to the Union Memorial Sports Medicine Center in Baltimore and national spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.

The American Heart Association has established that three egg yolks a week are a pretty safe bet for your coronary arteries, even if your blood cholesterol needs lowering.

But with recent outbreaks of food poisoning caused by salmonella enteritidis, are they safe for your tummy as well?

While there are a few groups who must be extremely careful, most people can relax and enjoy freshly prepared eggs, according to the Public Health Service -- Centers for Disease Control.

And last week, the federal Food and Drug Administration issued new guidelines and precautions for serving and preparing eggs.

In the past, eggs were contaminated with salmonella bacteria on the outside of the shell. Recent problems resulted from interior contamination. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has implemented a mandatory program to ensure that all flocks that produce chickens for laying eggs are free from this health problem.

Only one in 10,000 eggs is likely to be contaminated. But when eggs are "pooled" or mixed together, one bad egg will spoil the entire batch. If the pooled eggs are left at room temperature for an hour or more, the bacteria have time to multiply, increasing their virulence.

So proper handling and preparation of eggs is your best assurance of safety.

If you purchase eggs with clean, unbroken shells, keep them refrigerated until use, cook them thoroughly and eat them promptly, you can serve them confidently to any member of your household.

Eggs needn't be cooked to the "hard rubber" stage to be safe. The Food and Drug Administration has set the following safe preparation times:

Scrambled: 1 minute at 250 degrees.

Poached: 5 minutes in gently boiling water.

Sunnyside up: 4 minutes at 250 degrees, covered pan.

Over easy: 3 minutes first side, two minutes second side.

Softcooked: 7 minutes in boiling water.

Special care must be taken, however, with family members whose defenses against food poisoning and other illness are inadequate.

Infants, the elderly, pregnant women and people who are already ill are less resistant to disease, recover more slowly and are more likely to die as a result of dehydration than the rest of the population.

It's best not to serve dishes made with raw eggs, but especially to this high-risk group. Caesar salad, homemade ice cream, eggnog, soft-cooked custard and hollandaise sauce really are taboo. If you can't live without these foods, try experimenting with pasteurized egg substitutes designed for cholesterol-lowering diets.

Also, be extremely careful in restaurants, especially breakfast buffets. Restaurants should use only pasteurized egg products for scrambled eggs. Pooled fresh eggs, eggs left in chafing dishes for more than an hour, egg remnants from one chafing dish mixed with freshly cooked eggs and whole eggs for omelettes left sitting at room temperature all increase your risk of salmonella poisoning.

Eggs, when properly stored and prepared, provide outstanding nutrition at a modest price. A large egg provides 6 grams of nature's most perfect protein, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 1.9 grams of monounsaturated fat, vitamins A and D as well as all the B vitamins, and traces of a wide variety of minerals, all for only 75 calories. The egg's major drawback, of course, is 213 milligrams of cholesterol. That means you must use eggs in moderation, a familiar rule of thumb for good nutrition.

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