To Eat or Not to Eat – An Egg-cellent Question about Easter Eggs

My mom is hosting Easter dinner this year and plans to have an Easter egg hunt for the grandkids. Growing up, we always ate the eggs used in the egg hunt, and my mom insists this is fine. But I’ve heard that you shouldn’t eat those eggs. You should have a separate batch — one to eat and one to hide and use for decorations. Which one of us is right?

Well, that depends. You both are right – in certain circumstances.

Eggs are an important source of protein and are delicious to eat. However, they must be handled safely to prevent the chance of contracting a foodborne illness. One such outbreak occurred nationwide in 2010 when nearly 2,000 consumers reported becoming ill and some 550 million eggs were recalled due to salmonella contamination, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While the chances of foodborne illness are small, you still need to practice safe food handling when dealing with raw eggs in preparation for dyeing Easter eggs. That includes washing your hands thoroughly before handling the eggs at every step – cooking well, cooling, dyeing and hiding – says the American Egg Board.

If you are making Easter eggs that will be eaten, it is important that you make sure the eggs are thoroughly cooked. This can be done by placing fresh eggs with intact shells — never use eggs with cracked shells — in a saucepan and cover them with at least 1 inch of water. Cook the eggs until the yolk and white are firm. Then run cold water over the eggs and store them in the refrigerator until you are ready to decorate them.

However, if you are among those who prefer to decorate hollowed egg shells (by blowing the raw egg through a hole in the shell), be sure to use pasteurized shell eggs to lessen the potential of salmonella exposure. You can also wash the egg in hot water and rinse it in a solution of 1 teaspoon of chlorine bleach per one-half cup of water to sanitize it, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service.

Other safe handling tips from the USDA include:

  • Use warm water and food coloring or food-grade dyes to color eggs if they will be eaten.
  • Refrigerate the eggs in their cartons after coloring, and refrigerate them again after they’ve been hidden and found.
  • Don’t eat or hide cracked eggs because bacteria can get inside them.
  • When hiding eggs, consider the places you choose to hide them carefully. You should avoid places where pets, animals, insects or lawn chemicals could come in contact with the eggs and possibly contaminate them. Eggs should also be hidden in places that are protected from dirt, moisture and other sources of bacteria.
  • Boiled eggs can be safely kept out of the refrigerator for a maximum of two hours before they become hazardous to eat. But remember – that two-hour window includes the time it takes to both hide and find the eggs.
  • Boiled eggs can be stored in the refrigerator for one week. After that, they are unsafe to eat.

So in answer to your question, you can eat the eggs that you use for your Easter egg hunt – if you follow safe handling and storage practices. But, to be on the safe side, you may want to consider dyeing two batches of eggs – one for eating and the other for hunting.

If you plan to use Easter eggs for decorations and they will be out of the refrigerator for more than two hours, it’s best not to eat those eggs at all.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or

Editor: This column was reviewed by Sanja Ilic, specialist in Food Safety for Ohio State University Extension.

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