THE LIKELIHOOD of getting salmonella through shell eggs at home is small. For safety's sake, however, the Department of Agriculture's Meat and Poultry Hotline advises taking these precautions when handling and cooking eggs:
* Buy only clean, uncracked eggs from refrigerated cases. If you find a cracked egg in the carton, throw it out.
* Keep eggs refrigerated and use in three to five weeks. Do not let eggs sit at room temperature for more than an hour.
For optimal safety, both the white and the yolk of eggs should be thoroughly cooked. That means that both are cooked until firm.
* For those who prefer eggs less than firm, sunnyside-up eggs should have firm whites and yolks that are beginning to thicken. Eggs over-easy are cooked on both sides.
* Quiches and custards should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees, which means they will look very well set.
* When making egg nog or ice cream, use a recipe that calls for cooked eggs. The cooked egg mixture in these recipes should reach 160 degrees; at this temperature, the mixture will coat a spoon. (Eggs will not curdle or get lumpy at 160 degrees.)
* Meringues on top of pies should be baked 15 to 20 minutes a350 degrees. Meringues that are "just browned" are risky.
For other questions on egg or poultry safety, phone the USDA's Meat and Poultry Hotline, 1-800-535-4555.