Some of the most popular holiday foods, such as eggnog and French toast, feature undercooked eggs as a key ingredient.  But does the risk of Salmonella in raw eggs make “nog” a no-go?

“Here’s the dilemma consumers are facing: This time of year, recipes come out of the woodwork. They’re taking another look at those recipes and saying ‘Hey, these don’t meet today’s food safety standards,'” says Elisa Maloberti, director of Egg Product Marketing at the American Egg Board. 

The concern is that Grandma’s family eggnog recipe might not be considered safe anymore. While only 1 in every 20,000 eggs contains Salmonella, no one wants to spend their holiday in the hospital.

Pasteurized shelled eggs are becoming increasingly available (one brand is called Safest Choice); however all consumers may not have ready access to them. 

But don’t put away your nutmeg (or your rum) just yet.  It turns out that as long as the right precautions are taken, raw eggs can be used safely in liquid form.

Maloberti says the key is to heat raw eggs to 160 degrees Fahrenheit in order to kill all bacteria.

The savvy egg-eater might point out that a runny egg becomes an omelet when heated to this temperature; and he or she would be right.  However, Maloberti explains, a simple addition can solve this problem.  Eggs harden when their proteins coagulate, so in order for them to stay runny, their proteins must remain separate.  This can be achieved by diluting the egg with a substance like milk or sugar.

“The magic number is two tablespoons of sugar per white,” Maloberti says.  When cooking yolks and whites together, the American Egg board says to add ¼ cup of liquid or sugar per egg.  This mixture can then be heated to 160 degrees and will not harden.

Maloberti recently received a call from a woman worried about making French silk pie, a no-bake dessert containing eggs.  Maloberti told her that by combining the eggs, sugar and chocolate squares and heating them to 160 degrees before adding the creamed butter, she would not only make a pasteurized pie, but would save herself the step of melting the chocolate.

Explains Maloberti, “We didn’t change her recipe.  We just combined the ingredients in a different order.”

Maloberti stands behind the safety of the technique she teaches: “I have done this, and I can tell you first hand, without a doubt, I’m 100 percent confident that these methods work.”

Not surprisingly, this food-safety method is effective beyond its use in custards and holiday pies.  It can be used year-round when making ice cream, Caesar salad dressing, or any other food containing raw eggs.  Maloberti says the necessary step is adding the recipe’s liquid or sugar ingredients (at least 1/4 cup for every egg) to the raw eggs and heating the mixture to 160 before adding it to cooked or solid ingredients.

What about all those essential nutrients that we rely on eggs to give us?  Does this high heat diminish their value?

For the most part, the answer is no.  “Egg nutrients are pretty heat-stable,” Maloberti says. “The proteins themselves are only affected by overcooking.”  The B vitamins found in eggs, on the other hand, are more heat-sensitive, but these are vulnerable any time an egg is cooked.

For those who don’t feel the need to use fresh eggs, but still want to make safe food, Dean Hughson, vice president of Henningsen’s Foods, recommends liquid, frozen, or dried egg products, which are required by law to be pasteurized.

However people choose to make their holiday goodies safe, Maloberti has one final piece of advice for bakers: “French silk pie on a display table is a no-no.”  Pies might look lovely on a banquet table, but the rich nutrients in the eggs also make a lovely home for bacteria. Maloberti recommends taking pies out to serve, and then putting them back in the fridge or oven.

For more information on egg safety, visit the American Egg Board‘s website.