The holiday season is in full swing. Ugly sweater party invitations have been sent out, and New Year’s plans are underway. Recipes calling for raw eggs are plentiful during the holidays. Think of all the eggnog, eggs Benedict and no-bake cookies being served at parties, brunches and being delivered to your doorstep. Are those foods safe? Despite what people say, booze is not a safeguard against Salmonella, Campylobacter or other pathogens that may be lurking in egg-based holiday beverages. Pasteurized egg whites are sold in most grocery stores, but what about pasteurized yolks? Many recipes call for raw egg yolks. Egg substitutes are widely available:
- Liquid, pasteurized egg products (found in the refrigerator section)
- Frozen, pasteurized egg products (found in the frozen food section)
- Powdered egg whites (found in the baking section)
But getting the right flavor and texture in the finished product can be difficult when these products are used. Pasteurized whole eggs are available only on a limited basis – and in limited locations. So, what’s a cook to do to make sure his or her guests make it to the New Year unscathed? The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends the following steps to make homemade eggnog safe:
- Combine eggs and half the milk as indicated in the recipe. Other ingredients, such as sugar, may be added at this step.
- Cook the mixture gently to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F, stirring constantly.
- After cooking, chill the mixture before adding the rest of the milk and other ingredients.
At a temperature of 160 degrees F, the mixture will firmly coat a metal spoon. If they’re present in your eggs, Salmonella and other pathogens will be killed during the cooking process. What about that cookie dough? Children and adults alike have been known to sneak a bite of raw cookie dough, or lick the beaters or the bowl. Unfortunately, using pasteurized eggs or tasting dough before the eggs are added doesn’t make dough bullet-proof. Eggs aren’t the only ingredient in cookie dough that can make people sick. Recommendations for keeping cookie dough safe include the following:
- Do not eat any raw cookie dough or any other raw dough product that’s supposed to be cooked or baked.
- Follow package directions for cooking at proper temperatures and for specified times.
- Wash hands, work surfaces, and utensils thoroughly after contact with raw dough products.
- Keep raw foods separate from other foods while preparing them to prevent any contamination that might be present from spreading.
- Follow label directions to chill products promptly after purchase and after using them.
Don’t forget brunch When making Hollandaise sauce, Caesar salad, homemade mayonnaise or other foods that contain raw or lightly cooked eggs, it’s best to use an egg substitute that has been pasteurized. Scrambled eggs should be cooked until they’re firm, not runny. Fried, poached, boiled or baked eggs should be cooked until both the white and yolk are firm, and egg mixtures such as breakfast casseroles should be cooked until the center of the dish reaches 160 degrees F when measured with a tip-sensitive digital food thermometer. Pregnant women, infants and young children, older adults and people with weakened immune systems (such as cancer or HIV/AIDS patients or anyone with diabetes or kidney disease) are more susceptible to foodborne illness and should avoid these food products unless the foods have been heated to more than 160 degrees F or are made with pasteurized egg products or egg substitutes.