Last year’s nationwide outbreak of Salmonella was a dramatic example of how eggs can carry toxic bacteria.
More than 1,500 people became ill and some 500 million eggs had to be recalled during that outbreak, but every year there are reports of illness caused by eggs, particularly from raw or lightly cooked eggs in dishes such as custards, puddings, hollandaise sauce or Caesar salad dressing.
Easter eggs, because they’re more often thoroughly cooked, aren’t quite as risky. But Salmonella can be found on both the outside and inside of eggs, so it’s important to guard against cross contamination before they’re cooked — washing hands and all food contact surfaces that come in contact with raw eggs — and also to store cooked and uncooked eggs properly.
Here, as a reminder, are a dozen commonsense tips about Easter eggs:
1. Choose the freshest eggs possible and open the carton before you buy to make sure the shells are intact.
2. Eggs should be refrigerated at 40°F or colder.
3. Wash your hands thoroughly, and make sure children wash their hands, before and after handling uncooked shell eggs.
4. If you plan to hollow out eggshells by using your mouth to blow out the raw egg through holes in the shell, first wash the egg in hot water and rinse it in a solution of 1 teaspoon chlorine bleach per half cup of water. Or use pasteurized shell eggs.
5. Hard cook eggs instead of boiling them — the gentle cooking will help avoid green rings around the yolk (not unsafe but unappetizing) and will also help prevent cracking. This method is recommended by the American Egg Board for cooking eggs to be dyed: Place eggs in single layer in saucepan. Add enough tap water to come at least 1 inch above them. Add a tablespoon of vinegar for better dye coverage after cooking. Cover pan and quickly bring just to boiling. Turn off heat. If necessary, remove pan from burner to prevent further boiling. Let eggs stand, covered, in the hot water for 15 minutes for large eggs, about 12 minutes for medium and 18 for extra-large. Immediately run cold water over eggs or place them in ice water until completely cooled. Do not keep eggs warm or at room temperature (between 40° and 140°F) for more than 2 hours. Store in refrigerator until it’s time to dye the eggs.
6. Use only food-grade dyes and food-safe decorating materials. Dye the eggs in water warmer than the eggs so they don’t absorb the dye water.
7. Wash your hands between all the steps of cooking, cooling, dyeing and decorating.
8. Once the cooked eggs are decorated, return them to the refrigerator within two hours. They can be stored up to a week inside the refrigerator, not in the door.
9. If you’re going to use dyed, cooked eggs as decorations in braided breads, serve teh baked goods within 2 hours after baking or refrigerate and eat within 3 to 4 days.
10. Consider using one set of eggs for decorating and eating, and another set for decorating and hunting. Or to be extra safe, use plastic eggs for your Easter egg hunt instead of real ones.
11. If you’re going to hide real eggs outside, be sensible — don’t hide them where they can come in contact with animals, birds or lawn chemicals. Do not hide eggs with cracked shells, because bacteria could contaminate the inside. The total time for hiding and hunting eggs should not exceed 2 hours.
12. Eat properly refrigerated, hard-cooked eggs within 7 days.
These tips were gleaned from the following sources:
The federal food-safety information website: www.foodsafety.gov
The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service’s “Are Easter Eggs Safe?”
About.com Culinary Arts: Holiday Egg Safety Tips
The American Egg Board’s website at: www.incredibleegg.org