The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service presents: The Egg Handling Handbook
Why is egg safety a concern?
Eggs can be part of a healthy diet. However, they are perishable, just like raw meat,
poultry and fish. To be safe, they must be properly refrigerated and cooked. Also today
some unbroken shell eggs may contain bacteria that can make you sick unless the eggs
are carefully handled. This bacteria is Salmonella enteritidis. While the number of eggs
affected is less than one in ten thousand, there have been scattered outbreaks in the last
few years. Currently the government, the egg industry and the scientific community are
working together to solve the problem.
What part of the egg carries the bacteria?
Researchers say the salmonella bacteria are usually in the yolk or yellow. But they
can't rule out its presence in egg whites. So everyone is advised against eating raw or
undercooked egg yolks, whites or products containing them.
Who should be extra-careful?
People with health problems, the very young, the elderly and pregnant women ( the
risk is to the unborn child) are particularly vulnerable to Salmonella enteritidis
infections. Health problems could be a chronic illness or any condition which weakens
the immune system.
What can you do at home?
Proper refrigeration, cooking and handling should solve most "egg" problems. You
can continue to enjoy eggs and egg-rich foods if you follow these safe handling guide
To be egg-safe:
1. Avoid eating raw eggs or foods that contain them. This includes "health food" milk
shakes and raw eggs. Caesar salad, Hollandaise sauce, and any other food like
homemade mayonnaise, ice cream, or eggnog made from recipes in which the raw egg
ingredients are not cooked.
2. At the store, choose Grade A or AA eggs with clean, uncracked shells. Make sure they
have been refrigerated in the store. Any bacteria present in an egg can grow quickly at
3. Refrigerating eggs - Take eggs straight home to the refrigerator. A home refrigerator
should be running at 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Store them in the grocery carton in the
coolest part of the refrigerator, not in the door. Don't wash eggs. You'll remove a
protective coating applied at the packing plant.
4. How long will eggs keep in the refrigerator? Use raw shell eggs within 3 to 5 weeks.
Hard-cooked eggs will keep 1 week. Use leftover yolks and whites within 4 days.
5. How long will eggs keep frozen? About 6 months. You can freeze white separately.
For whole eggs, beat yolks and whites together.If eggs freeze accidentally in their shells,
keep them frozen until needed. Defrost in the refrigerator. Discard any with cracked
6. Handling eggs- Wash hands, utensils, equipment and work areas with hot, soapy
water before and after contact with eggs and egg-rich foods. Avoid keeping eggs out of
the refrigerator over two hours. Serve cooked eggs and egg-rich foods immediately after
cooking, or refrigerate at once for later use. Use within 3-4 days.
7. Leftovers - Divide large amounts of egg-rich foods into small containers for quick
8. Cooking times-
Fried eggs- 2 to 3 minutes on each side; 4 minutes in a covered pan.
Scrambled eggs- should be cooked until firm throughout.
Poached eggs- Cook 5 minutes over boiling water
Soft-cooked eggs- Cook in the shell 7 minutes.
9. Safer egg recipes- Update recipes for Caesar salad, Hollandaise sauce, homemade
mayonnaise, salad dressing and other uncooked egg-based sauces by using commercial
pasteurized eggs or egg substitutes. Egg mixtures are safe if they reach 160 degrees
Fahrenheit, so you can make eggnog, ice cream and soft custards from fresh eggs if you
start with a cooked base. Use a thermometer or heat gently until the mixture coats a
10. Easter eggs- Cooking removes the eggshell's natural protective coating, so hard
cooked eggs are more susceptible to bacteria than fresh shell eggs. Refrigerate Easter eggs
immediately after cooking and drying. Do not leave them off refrigeration for over two
hours during the hunt either. After your "bunnies" have found their eggs, refrigerate
the eggs again. They should keep for about a week.
For information of the safe preparation and handling of egg-rich dishes like quiche,
meringues, meringue pie toppings, etc. request the Summer 1992 Egg Handling
Handbook from USDA-FSIS, Rm 1165 South, Washington DC, 20250; 202-690-0351.
For more information on eggs and the safe handling of perishable foods, call USDA's
Meat and Poultry Hotline 800-535-4555. Washington, D.C. residents can call
202-720-3333/ The Hotline is staffed 10-4 Eastern Time, weekdays.
Reprinted from Food News for Consumers, Winter, 1993: Revised March 1993.
We would like to thank the United States Department of Agriculture for providing
this information and permission to reprint the article. This information is current to
October, 1994. For the most recent information, contact the numbers above.