Hold the raw, unpasteurized eggs from your holiday recipes

I love to drink eggnog this time of year, and hollandaise sauce is a rich indulgence that puts me in the holiday mood. While I typically make my own eggnog and hollandaise sauce using raw eggs, this year my wife has asked me to avoid the raw eggs. What’s wrong with using raw eggs in those recipes?

Eggnog. Traditional Christmas drink made from raw chicken eggs and milk with cinnamon in glass.

Count me in among those hundreds of thousands of consumers who indulge in rich, creamy, delicious eggnog this time of year! In fact, some 135 pounds of eggnog is consumed in this country each year, according to research from Indiana University.

But, if you are making your own eggnog—which is a sweetened, dairy-based drink traditionally made with milk, cream, sugar, whipped eggs, and spices—you should make sure that it is safe to drink. You can do this by using pasteurized eggs, which you can find in any grocery store, next to the regular eggs.

Another way to ensure safety is by cooking the egg mixture for homemade eggnog to 160 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Foodsafety.gov, which offers food safety information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This is because raw eggs can contain salmonella, said Sanja Ilic, Food Safety State Specialist, Ohio State University Extension. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

“Cooking the egg mixture for homemade eggnog, hollandaise sauce, and other egg-based treats will kill dangerous bacteria that can cause food poisoning,” Ilic said.

That’s an important step, considering that salmonella typically causes a million foodborne illnesses in the United States each year, resulting in some hospitalizations and even some deaths, according to the CDC.

Salmonella infection can cause diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps within 12 to 72 hours of infection, with the symptoms typically lasting four to seven days. In some people, the disease can be so severe that it leads to hospitalization or even death, the CDC says.

So how do eggs become contaminated with salmonella?

Poultry can carry bacteria such as salmonella, which can contaminate the inside of eggs before the shells are formed. Eggshells can also become contaminated with salmonella from poultry droppings (feces) or from the area where they are laid, according to the CDC.

“However, it’s important to know that eggs are safe and nutritious when you cook and handle them properly,” Ilic said.

The CDC advises that you avoid using raw, or undercooked, unpasteurized eggs as part of your holiday treats. The agency instead recommends that you use pasteurized eggs in your recipes that call for raw eggs. Pasteurized eggs are those that have been heat-treated to kill harmful microorganisms.

Here are some other CDC suggestions when using raw eggs:

  • Cook eggs until both the yolks and the whites are firm. Egg dishes should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees or hotter.
  • Make sure that foods containing raw or lightly cooked eggs, such as hollandaise sauce, Caesar salad dressing, and tiramisu, are made only with pasteurized eggs.
  • Eat or refrigerate eggs and foods containing eggs promptly after cooking. Do not keep eggs or foods made with eggs warm or at room temperature for more than two hours, or one hour if the temperature is 90 degrees or hotter.
  • Wash your hands and all items that come into contact with raw eggs—including countertops, utensils, dishes, and cutting boards—with soap and water.

Please note: Don’t lick the bowl or eat raw dough when you are making cakes, cookies, brownies, or other foods that contain raw, unpasteurized eggs!

Although you might be tempted to lick a batter-laden spoon or a bowl filled with raw dough or batter, it’s best to avoid this practice to lessen your chances of getting a foodborne illness.

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 writer Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

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

I saw that there’s been another alert about romaine lettuce. How do I know whether what’s in my fridge is part of the impacted varieties?

E coli bacterial culture plate with romaine lettuce in laboratory. Photo: Getty Images.

Unless you can verify whether the romaine lettuce that’s in your fridge was NOT harvested from Salinas, California, you should throw it out.

That’s per the latest warning from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which issued an updated food safety alert on Dec.4. The alert advises consumers, restaurants, and retailers to avoid eating or selling any romaine lettuce grown in the Salinas, California, growing region. This includes all use-by dates and brands of romaine lettuce from the area.

The warning is the result of the recent multistate outbreak of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli O157:H7 (E. coli O157:H7) infections linked to romaine lettuce from the region. Since Dec. 4, some 102 reported cases of illness in 23 states including Ohio have been associated with this outbreak, the CDC said. Some 58 hospitalizations have been reported due to the outbreak, with 10 people having developed kidney failure, although, thankfully, no deaths have been reported, the CDC said.

Of the 67 reported cases of illnesses, 12 were reported in Ohio, the CDC said.

“We had a similar situation just before Thanksgiving holiday last year, when Romaine lettuce that was grown in the Yuma, AZ agricultural region was implicated in an outbreak,” said Sanja Ilic, Food Safety State Specialist, Ohio State University Extension. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

“As a result, all Romaine lettuce was recalled then to prevent illnesses,” she said.

The difference between that recall and the current one this year, is that the growers are since using traceability labels with the origin of the farm, which has helped to narrow down where the impacted lettuce originated, Ilic said.

“Every lettuce head or a package of lettuce you buy should have a sticker stating where it was produced,” she said. “Unless you can see it where it was grown, do not serve it. This is important when eating at home, as well when eating out in a restaurant. You can ask your server to verify that the restaurant is not serving contaminated lettuce before ordering anything that contains lettuce.”

This is the fourth time in two years that romaine lettuce has been associated with an E. coli outbreak. That begs the question, just how does a leafy green vegetable such as lettuce become infected with a pathogen such as this?

As noted in a previous edition of Chow Line, if animal feces are in the irrigation water, the field or in the soil in which the lettuce is grown, or if the lettuce comes into contact with water that contains the pathogen, E. coli can be transferred from the feces onto the lettuce.

It can also be spread if a person who carries the pathogen doesn’t wash his or her hands after using the bathroom, and then that person processes or prepares food.

It’s important to note that washing contaminated greens doesn’t remove all bacteria, food safety experts say. While cooking can eliminate E. coli, most people don’t cook their leafy green salads. For that reason, avoidance is sometimes recommended when the source of an outbreak is identified.

Symptoms of E. coli infection can begin as soon as 24 to 48 hours—or as long as 10 days—after eating contaminated food. Those symptoms include vomiting, severe or bloody diarrhea, and abdominal pain.

So, if you have—or have had—the affected romaine lettuce in your fridge, you should wash and sanitize the drawer, shelf, or other removable part in your refrigerator where the romaine lettuce was stored. You can wash the drawer, shelf, or other removable part by hand with hot, soapy water, the CDC says. You can then sanitize that part using a solution of 1 tablespoon of liquid bleach in 1 gallon of water.

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 writer Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

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