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Frequently Asked Questions About Egg Food Safety

Egg Safety FAQ

What does the date on the egg carton mean?

How long are eggs safe to eat after purchase?

How long are eggs that have been refrigerated, safe to eat? 

How long are hard cooked eggs that have been refrigerated, safe to eat? 

How does Salmonella infect eggs?

What is pooling and why is it not recommended?

How should eggs be refrigerated?

I just realized I left the egg carton on the kitchen
counter overnight. Are the eggs safe to use?

What is an adequate temperature to cook an egg?

Can shell eggs be pasteurized or irradiated to destroy Salmonella?

Are egg products pasteurized?

What should you consider when purchasing eggs?

Is the appearance of an egg related to food safety?

How is the egg industry working to promote egg safety?

 

What does the date on the egg carton mean?

Egg cartons with the USDA grademark must display a “Julian date”*, the date the eggs were packed. Although not required, they may also carry an expiration date beyond which the eggs should not be sold, but are still safe to eat. On cartons with the USDA grademark, this date can not exceed 30 days after the eggs were packed in the carton.  Depending on the retailer, the expiration date may be less than 30 days. Eggs packed in cartons without the USDA grademark are governed by the laws of their states. 

*Julian date: usually on the short side of the carton, represents the consecutive days of the year with the number 001 as January 1 and December 31 as 365. 

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How long are eggs safe to eat after purchase?

Fresh shell eggs can be stored in their cartons in the refrigerator for four to five weeks beyond the carton’s Julian date with minor loss of quality. Once an egg begins to age, it loses moisture through its porous shell and begins to dry. The membranes that hold the egg structure begin to loosen and the yolk may not be anchored in the center of the white once the egg is broken. An older egg would be most appropriate for a mixed dish, a batter or a hard cooked egg which should be easier to peel than a freshly laid egg.

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How long are eggs that have been refrigerated, safe to eat?

Raw eggs maintain their freshness for 4-5 weeks after purchase if kept refrigerated continuously. 

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How long are hard cooked eggs that have been refrigerated, safe to eat? 

A hard cooked egg can safely be refrigerated for up to one week.  

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How does Salmonella infect eggs?
Salmonella bacteria are found in the intestinal tracts of animals, birds, reptiles, insects and humans. Salmonella may be found on the outside of the egg shell before the egg is washed or it may be found inside the egg if the hen was infected. It is estimated that one egg in 20,000 eggs may contain Salmonella which is a 0.005% contamination rate. Eggs contain natural antimicrobial substances in the egg white, and all eggs are washed and sanitized before they are packed. Egg recipes properly prepared in individual servings and promptly eaten are rarely a problem.  Inadequate refrigeration, improper handling and insufficient cooking are all factors that have contributed to disease outbreaks. Salmonella is destroyed by heat. Eggs that have been handled and cooked properly should not cause human illness.

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What is pooling and why is it not recommended?
The pooling of eggs, which is a common practice where eggs are broken out of their shell, mixing egg white and yolk, then held together in large quantities. This practice removes the egg's natural barriers and creates a nutrient rich medium that is ideal for bacterial growth. Lack of washing hands and cutting boards with warm soapy water is another contributing factor in approximately one third of the U.S. food borne illness outbreaks reported by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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How should eggs be refrigerated?
Refrigerate raw shell eggs in their cartons on the middle or lower inside shelf, not on the door, and away from any meat that might drip juices or any raw produce that might contact eggshells. Cover or wrap well any egg mixtures or leftover cooked egg dishes. For all perishable foods, including eggs and egg containing dishes, allow no more than 2 hours at room temperature for preparation and serving, 30 minutes to 1 hour when it's 85°F or hotter without refrigeration.

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I just realized I left the egg carton on the kitchen counter overnight. Are the eggs safe to use?
The general rule is that if food items are at room temperature for more than 2 hours, the safest thing to do is to discard the product. If you leave eggs anywhere that is not refrigerated, the best thing to do is throw those eggs away and buy a new carton.

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What is an adequate temperature to cook an egg?
Egg white coagulates between 144 and 149°F, egg yolk coagulates between 149 and 158°F and whole eggs between 144 and 158°F. Plain whole eggs without added ingredients are pasteurized but not cooked by bringing them to 140°F and maintaining that temperature for 3 and 1/2 minutes. According to the FDA Food Code, eggs for immediate consumption can be cooked to 145°F for 15 seconds.

If the eggs are to be used in a recipe with other food items, dilute the eggs with with liquid or other ingredients, such as milk, or sugar (at least ¼ cup liquid or sugar per egg as in custard) and cook the egg mixture to 160°F, which will destroy harmful bacteria in a few seconds. Adequate cooking brings eggs and other foods to a temperature high enough to destroy bacteria that might be present.

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Can shell eggs be pasteurized or irradiated to destroy Salmonella?
A processor can pasteurize shell eggs if FDA has approved the process. Pasteurized shell eggs are available in some areas in the U.S. Shell eggs have recently been approved for irradiation by the US Food and Drug Administration but are not yet available.

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Are egg products pasteurized?
All egg products are required by law to be pasteurized.  Approximately one third of all eggs produced in the US today are broken and further processed to make egg products which are sold as retail or foodservice items or ingredients for commercial food manufacturers. These may be whole liquid egg, egg whites, or egg yolks, and may be liquid, frozen or dried. The safety of egg products is regulated by the Food Safety Inspection Service of the USDA and is ensured by mandatory pasteurization to destroy potentially harmful pathogens.  Egg products are readily available for food service facilities to use and offer a convenient alternative to using raw shell eggs when large quantities are needed.

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What should you consider when purchasing eggs?
Always buy eggs from a refrigerated case. Choose eggs with clean, uncracked shells. Don't buy out of date eggs. The USDA grade shield on the carton means that the eggs were graded for quality and checked for weight under the supervision of a trained USDA grader. State agencies monitor compliance for egg packers who do not use the USDA grading service.

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Is the appearance of an egg related to food safety?
Variation in egg color is due to many factors. A cloudy white is a sign that the egg is very fresh. A clear egg white is an indication that the egg is aging. Pink or iridescent egg white indicates spoilage and should not be consumed. A rupture of one or more small blood vessels in the yolk may cause blood spots at the time of ovulation. It does not indicate the egg is unsafe to eat. The color of the yolk varies in shades of yellow depending upon the diet of the hen. If she eats plenty of yellow/orange plants the yolk with be a darker yellow than if she eats white cornmeal, a colorless diet. A green ring on a hard cooked yolk is result of overcooking and is caused by sulfur and iron compounds in the egg reacting on the yolk's surface. The green color can also be caused by a high amount of iron in the cooking water. Scrambled eggs held too long on a steam table or at too high a temperature can also develop a green tint. The green color is safe to eat.

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How is the egg industry working to promote egg safety?
Egg industry programs start by keeping breeder flocks Salmonella free. The National Poultry Improvement Plan, a joint program between the industry and the US Department of Agriculture, is a model program for preventing breeder stock infection.

Ongoing research projects are dedicated to discovering how Salmonella gets into flocks and how it might be blocked.

A number of farm level programs such as the United Egg Producer's 5 Star program, apply quality control measures and sanitation procedures all through the production, processing and preparation phases, including testing chicks to confirm their cleanliness and Salmonella free status. By holding eggs at cool temperatures (45°F) during production and transportation stages, producers help to ensure that any Salmonella present will not multiply and less bacteria will be available to spread or risk infecting the consumer.

The American Egg Board and the Egg Nutrition Center are members of the Partnership for Food Safety Education www.fightbac.org, a unique industry and government coalition whose purpose is to reduce foodborne illness by educating the public about safe food handling practices.

 

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