it comes to eggs, consumers are pretty good at following two of the four key food safety messages — “separate” and “chill” — but when it comes to “clean” and “cook,” a bit more education might be required. A team of researchers from RTI International, Tennessee State University, and Kansas State University have just published the findings of their survey of handling practices and consumption of shell eggs in U.S. homes. The study was partially funded by the Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The survey, conducted in September 2013, found that most consumers purchase eggs at the grocery store, store them in the refrigerator, and keep them for no more than three to five weeks, as is recommended by the USDA. But many don’t follow safe practices when it comes to cleaning and cooking. Only 48 percent wash their hands with soap and water after cracking eggs. Because hands are the primary vehicle for spreading pathogens in the kitchen, USDA and the Partnership for Food Safety recommend that consumers wash their hands before and after handling raw eggs. More than half of participants who fry or poach eggs leave the yolks soft or runny, something discouraged by the Food and Drug Administration. Thirteen percent reported rinsing or washing eggs before cooking them, another potentially unsafe practice because of the possibility of cross-contamination. USDA and FDA recommend using a food thermometer to determine the doneness of baked dishes, such as quiche, custard or bread pudding (the recommended internal temperature is 160 degrees F). Of those who said they own a food thermometer, only 5 percent use it to check egg dishes. The two main reasons for not using a thermometer were, “I never thought to use one,” and, “I didn’t know I was supposed to use one for egg dishes.” As for consumption, most people said they didn’t eat raw eggs or foods made from undercooked eggs, such as eggnog, but 25 percent did report eating raw, homemade cookie dough or cake batter. According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, Salmonella enteritidis is one of the most common serotypes of Salmonella bacteria reported worldwide, and eggs have been the most common food source linked to infections. An estimated 64 percent of outbreaks between 1998-2008 caused by Salmonella enteriditis were attributed to eggs. The authors of the shell egg survey published this month in the Journal of Food Protection argue that reducing Salmonella infections will require consumers to improve how they “clean” and “cook.” The study could also help inform the development of consumer education materials. (To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)