Raw eggs sometimes harbor Salmonella

ON CALL

September 08, 1992|By Dr. Simeon Margolis

Q: Should I pay attention to my wife when she says that we should not order Caesar salads in restaurants?

A: The easy answer is to tell you that you should always listen to what your wife says. She may not be right on every occasion, but it is true that Caesar salad dressing, made with raw eggs, has been responsible for many outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness due to contamination of eggs with Salmonella bacteria. These bacteria pose no threat when eggs are properly cooked, but Salmonella may infect the intestine if you eat foods containing raw or under-cooked eggs. Such foods include not only Caesar salad dressing but also hollandaise sauce and homemade ice cream and eggnog. (Commercial eggnog is safe because it is made with pasteurized eggs.) The risk of infection is not great since it is estimated that only one in 10,000 eggs contains Salmonella.

On average the illness begins about 24 hours after ingestion of foods containing Salmonella and persists for four to 10 days. The symptoms, which include diarrhea, fever, crampy abdominal pain, nausea and chills, may be severe enough to require hospitalization. Consumption of foods containing raw or undercooked eggs should be especially avoided or prevented in infants, the elderly and those with compromise of their immune system (such as AIDS patients, for example) because such individuals suffer the most severe illnesses and even death.

Dr. Margolis is professor of medicine and biological chemistry at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and associate dean for faculty affairs at the school.

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