Cracking the Code: Your Essential Guide to Egg Safety

Article by Ripa Das, UConn Dietetics Student; Daniela Avelino, and Valerie Duffy
Reviewers: Indu Upadhyaya
Publication EXT064 | April 2024

Eggs can be a delicious protein diet staple when used in salads and sandwiches, or when used for their binding function in baking and holding together ground meats. However, consumers in general do not associate this protein-rich food with biological, food safety hazards.  Eggs CAN carry harmful bacteria, such as Salmonella, and when improperly handled or prepared can cause foodborne illness.

Foodborne Illnesses

Foodborne illness is a common health concern, often resulting from eating contaminated foods. The publicized risks of foodborne illness often focus on undercooked poultry or shellfish, but in general, eggs or foods containing eggs are overlooked. Salmonella, a bacteria often associated with raw poultry, can also be found in eggs. The bacteria may cause symptoms such as diarrhea, stomach cramping, nausea, and vomiting when ingested. These symptoms can be worsened for those who are young (under four years), the elderly, and those who are immunocompromised (having conditions that affect their immune system). Fortunately, proper handling and processing of eggs can prevent Salmonella infections.

How to Make Sure You Are Purchasing Safe Eggs

  • Only buy eggs that are refrigerated.
  • Check the eggs for dirt and any cracks in the shell. If you see chicken droppings on a commercially packed egg, discard the egg. Wipe off any other dirt thoroughly and do not use any eggs with cracks.
  • Look at the expiration date on the carton.  Make sure the eggs are still within the date.
    • Don’t confuse the expiration date with the “sell by” date. “Sell by” just tells the length of time the product can be stocked when managing inventory in stores. This does NOT mean the food is unsafe to eat.

 Safe Storage and Handling of Eggs

  • After purchasing, bring eggs home and refrigerate immediately, preferably in the middle of the refrigerator, toward the back.
    • Discard if the eggs have been out for more than two hours at room temperature.
  • Keep eggs in their original packaging for refrigeration.
  • Make sure your refrigerator keeps eggs at or below 40°F.
  • Raw eggs can be refrigerated for three to five weeks after they are first put into the refrigerator.
  • After hard-boiling eggs, store them in the refrigerator for a maximum of one week.
  • In mixed egg dishes, aim to finish or discard leftovers by the four-day mark.
  • Avoid washing commercially packaged eggs, as doing so could increase the risk of contamination. This is because the wash water could potentially be absorbed into the egg through the shell's pores, thereby transporting bacteria along with it.

Cooking and Consuming Eggs

  • Although the USDA recommendations include an internal temperature of 145°F when cooking raw shell eggs, for the safest consumption, cook eggs thoroughly until firm or until 160°F.
  • Mixed dishes with eggs should be cooked evenly until 160°F.
  • When reheating egg leftovers, cook until 165°F.
  • After cooking, cool eggs to refrigeration temp within two hours, at or below 40°F.
  • Beware of recipes that use raw/undercooked eggs because of the risk of Salmonella.
    • This includes homemade mayonnaise, uncooked cake batters, raw cookie dough, custards, etc.
      • Use pasteurized eggs to make these recipes as safe as possible; pasteurized eggs are heat-treated to kill most harmful bacteria.

General Safety Tips for Combating Foodborne Illness

  • Wash hands for a minimum of 20 seconds before touching food.
  • Clean kitchen equipment and food surfaces before and after use, especially when working with raw eggs and meats.
  • Separate food items to prevent cross-contamination.
  • Cool foods as quickly as possible to refrigeration temperature (at or below 40°F.)
    • The maximum amount of time for food to be left out of refrigeration is four hours.
  • When transporting foods, keep hot food hot and cold food cold, or if you are transporting leftovers in cold ice packs, make sure to reheat at the right temperature.

Additional Resources