Guidelines for safe handling of eggs

Use clean utensils, be sure eggs are well-cooked and wash your hands to avoid salmonella.
By John Russo Jr.,
VICUS.COM (3 Aug. 2000) — In response to an increasing number of human illnesses associated with the consumption of shell eggs, the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) began in December 1996 a comprehensive risk assessment of Salmonella enterica serotype intestinal infections (Salmonella enteritidis).  The model developed was based on an average production of 46.8 billion shell eggs per year in the United States, 2.3 million of which contain Salmonella enteritidis. By FSIS (an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture) calculations, consumption of these eggs would result in about 660,000 human illnesses per year, with the following impact on the infected individuals and the health-care system:

  • 94% (622,000) will recover without medical care; 
  • 5% (33,000) will feel sick enough to visit a physician; 
  • 0.5% (3,000) people will require hospitalization; and 
  • 0.05% (300) of the cases will result in death. 

Twenty percent of the population is at a higher risk for salmonellosis from Salmonella enteritidis, specifically infants, the elderly, transplant patients, pregnant women and people with certain diseases. 

How to protect yourself from salmonellosis

In the store:

  • Buy eggs only from refrigerated cases; 
  • Eggs should be clean, sound-shelled, fresh and grade AA or A; 
  • Egg shell and yolk color have nothing to do with egg quality, flavor, nutritive value, cooking characteristics or shell thickness. 

At home: 

  • Refrigerate them in their cartons on an inside shelf at 40°F as soon as possible after purchase; 
  • Do not leave eggs in any form at room temperature for more than two hours, including during preparation and serving; 
  • Promptly after serving, refrigerate leftovers in shallow containers so they will cool quickly. 

On a picnic:

  • Pack cold egg dishes with ice or commercial coolant in an insulated cooler or bag. 

Handling eggs:

  • Use only clean, unbroken eggs. Discard dirty or broken eggs; 
  • Don’t mix the shell with the egg’s contents (before they are packed, eggs are washed and sanitized. This process should remove most pathogenic bacteria from the surface of the shell, but some might remain in the pores or the shell might be reinfected from other sources); 
  • Don’t re-wash eggs before use;
  • Use an egg separator to separate yolks and whites so that contents do not come in contact with the shells; 
  • If a bit of shell falls into the egg, remove it with a clean utensil.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and hot water before beginning food preparation;
  • Wash your hands again, along with all utensils, equipment and counter tops that have been in contact with any raw food before preparing other foods;
  • Use separate cutting boards for raw and cooked foods. Then, wash and sanitize them thoroughly after each use. 

Cooking the egg:

  • Adequate cooking ensures that egg dishes reach a temperature high enough to destroy any bacteria that may be present; 
  • Salmonella organisms will not survive if held at a temperature of 140° F for 3-1/2 minutes or if they reach an end-point temperature of 160° F; 
  • The internal temperatures of fully baked goods and hard-cooked eggs will easily reach more than 160°F by the time they are done; 
  • Quiches, baked custards and most casseroles are done when a knife inserted near the center comes out clean; 
  • With some casseroles, which are thick and heavy or contain cheese — lasagna, for example — it may be difficult to decide if the knife shows uncooked egg or melted cheese. In such cases, a thermometer is the only accurate test; 
  • Soft (stirred) custards are done when the mixture coats a metal spoon. At this point, the mixture will be well above 160°F; 
  • Eggnogs and homemade ice cream, sometimes made with raw eggs, can easily be made safely by using a stirred custard base. Chill well before freezing or serving. 
  • Cook scrambled eggs, frittatas, omelets and French toast until the eggs are thickened and no visible liquid egg remains; 
  • Poach eggs in simmering water until the whites are completely set and the yolks begin to thicken but are not hard, about 3 to 5 minutes; 
  • Cook fried eggs slowly until the whites are completely set and the yolks begin to thicken but are not hard. Baste the eggs, turn them or cover with a lid to cook both sides; 
  • For soft-cooked eggs, bring eggs and water to a boil. Turn off the heat, then cover and let stand about 4 to 5 minutes. 

John Russo Jr. is senior vice president of medical communications at He is a pharmacist and medical writer with more than 20 years experience in medical education. 

This article was updated on 3 Aug. 2000.


U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service, Salmonella Enteritidis Risk Assessment

Eggs and good health