A woman called recently with news that her friends were afraid of my eggnog.
They wouldn't drink any because they were afraid of one of the ingredients. Not the 2 cups of bourbon, not the 1 1/8 cups of sugar, not the 4 cups of whipping cream. But the 6 egg yolks.
Since the yolks weren't cooked, the friends of this woman were worried that the eggs could be contaminated with salmonella bacteria, and that drinking the nog would make them ill.
What, the woman on the phone wanted to know, could she do?
My first response was to tell the woman to get some new friends. To find some people who understand that the pursuit of any pleasure involves some risk. And I wanted to warn her that if she spent her time hanging around with the obsessed-with-bacteria crowd, she was going to miss much of the joy life had to offer.
But the woman persisted and won my sympathy. She flattered me. She said that, even in front of these doubting friends, she continued to drink my eggnog simply because it was so good. What she wanted was information that could help bring these eggnog agnostics into the flock of believers. Those were not her exact words, but that is what I heard her saying.
So with the idea of helping folks get a grip on their fear of eggnog, I called authorities around the country. I called the Department of Agriculture in Washington, the American Egg Board outside Chicago, the Center for Infectious Diseases in Atlanta and a professor of food science at Cornell University.
In brief, here is what I was told.
That the chances were about 10,000 to 1 that an egg used in making eggnog is contaminated with salmonella. Since I use six uncooked egg yolks in my nog, my chances were 10,000 to 6.
That if I, as a healthy 43-year-old adult, were unlucky enough to drink some eggnog contaminated with salmonella, I would most likely have headaches and spend several days running to the bathroom. The health consequences could be more severe for folks who are very old, very young (who shouldn't be drinking spiked eggnog anyway) and who have troubled immune systems. A researcher at Center for Infectious Diseases cautioned that in rare cases a person could die as a result of salmonella.
That the eggnogs that are at risk are homemade nogs using uncooked eggs. Commercial nogs use pasteurized eggs, and some homemade nogs called for cooked eggs.
And finally that I could lessen my 10,000 to 6 chances of getting ill from my eggnog by cooking the 6 yolks and a cup and a half of the cream at 140 degrees for 3 1/2 minutes.
Or I could try adding more alcohol to the mix.
Alcohol does attack the bacteria. But researchers at Cornell University found that a nog would have to be composed of at least 50 percent alcohol to have an effect. This amount of alcohol would, they said, make the nog undrinkable.
I plan to try treating the eggs by cooking them and by adding more bourbon. I'll let you know the results.