Ah, the holidays … whatever holiday it is that you celebrate (or just the holiday called “Quiet Time in the Office”), I think it is safe to assume that your holiday is overflowing with deliciousness. Friends hosting parties; family gathering for dinners; coworkers bringing treats to share. Whether sweet or savory, this time of year screams FOOD. (And that means my pants scream LOOSEN ME.) However you choose to celebrate – or not celebrate – this time of year, let’s talk about some ways to make sure your holiday season doesn’t scream BARF-HUMBUG!
Around Thanksgiving we talked about safely handling raw meat. Quick! Do we rinse our turkeys or not? I hope you said NOT. This time of year I think we need to talk about eggs and Salmonella. That unexciting ingredient that goes into cookies, cakes and other sweet treats, and let’s not forget about latkes, a Chanukah staple, and of course eggnog. I don’t know about you, but I often quickly add them and move on to the more exciting ingredients like chocolate chips! Let’s take a step back and think about those eggs.
Shell eggs (ie, eggs in their shells as opposed to the egg product in a carton – more on this below) are not pasteurized. That means they can contain Salmonella. There are regulations in place that mandate certain procedures to clean the outside of eggs sold commercially so you’re good there. The issue is that Salmonella can live inside the shell. That means we have to be careful.
Here are a few suggestions to make sure you aren’t contaminating your kitchen:
1. When handling raw egg, you should think of it like raw meat. Would you rub your raw chicken all over your countertops? Would you get raw chicken on your hand, wipe it on your dishtowel and just move on without washing with soap and water? I hope not. And if you do, please don’t invite me over for dinner. After you crack your eggs into the bowl, wash your hands and anything else you touched. Wash with water AND soap. Come on. Will these soaps that look like bacterial cultures help make hand washing more fun?
2. Now don’t forget that whatever you just mixed your egg into has raw egg in it. Did that sound like the most obvious statement ever? hen why would you roll cookie dough out on your counter, cut out your adorable Rudolph cookies, line them up like a reindeer army marching across your baking sheet, and then NOT wash your hands again and anything else you touched including the counter? I mean, really people! If your eggs are contaminated, you just shmeared Salmonella all over the place and *bing bong* your guests are here and not interested in eating your Salmonella cookies while gathered around your Salmonella countertops. Do everything you possibly can to NOT cross contaminate.
3. OK. Now we need to have a difficult talk. This won’t be easy for either of us to discuss but it is necessary. Eating raw cookie dough. I know, I know … it is delicious. I’m right there with you! So I’m not going to tell you not to eat raw cookie dough. I know you’ll stop reading right now and brush me off as the mean lady who ruined your favorite indulgence. What I am going to tell you is that you have to lick those delicious spoons at your own risk. Just like with raw meat or fish, it could make you sick. Any egg could contain Salmonella. Just because you got it at Fancy Pants Grocery doesn’t mean it is exempt from contamination. Officially we don’t recommend eating raw cookie dough. Unofficially? You decide if you feel it is worth the risk. I would strongly discourage you from letting your kids, an elderly friend or relative or anyone with a compromised immune system have it. In that case, it probably is not worth the risk. Salmonella is potentially very dangerous. And to those of you tough guys who are like, “Oh, I eat raw cookie dough all the time and I’m still alive!” You may get sick – you may not get sick. But ask any person who has ever contracted Salmonella and they will likely tell you about the time when they wish they weren’t alive as the slept on the bathroom floor cuddled up to the toilet.
4. As I already mentioned, shell eggs are not pasteurized but egg product is. Egg product is the stuff that comes in cartons. Many restaurants use egg product for that reason – Pasteurized! No lawsuit! Hooray! If you’re making sauces that call for raw egg (Caesar dressing, Hollandaise, béarnaise, etc), using egg product is safer. Some egg product won’t work well for baking so check the side of the carton first. It will tell you.
5. Make sure things are cooked all the way through. You’re not going to stick a meat thermometer in every cookie and latke, but you can still check to make sure they aren’t raw in the center. You want the chocolate chips to be gooey, not the cookie part. And when frying latkes, be sure your pan isn’t too hot so they cook through before the outside burns. In both cases, break one in half to check the center. Oh, and you know those delicious runny sunny side up eggs you love to dip your toast in? Yeah, those aren’t cooked all the way through. Just like with the cookie dough, eat at your own risk.
6. Don’t drink unpasteurized eggnog. You can get pasteurized eggnog, so why risk it? Friends don’t let friends drink unpasteurized eggnog and hold their own hair back … if you know what I mean.
As GI Joe said, “Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.” He was obviously referring to safe food handling when he said that.
Why do we go to so much trouble to entertain and be entertained this time of year? Because it is nice. Because seeing people enjoy cookies and latkes that you made makes you feel good. You know what won’t make you feel good? Seeing people snacking on thumbprint cookies with a dollop of Salmonella in the center where a Hershey kiss should be. That won’t end well for anyone.
By Michelle Forman, Senior Media Specialist, the Association of Public Health Laboratories. First published on the APHL Public Health LabLog. Reposted with permission.