|North Dakota State University -- NDSU Agriculture Communication
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Prairie Fare: Serve Up a Holiday Classic Safely
By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist
How upset would you be if your favorite place for breakfast refused to serve you sunny-side-up eggs? According to a Midwest newspaper report, one customer doused his server with a glass of ice water and punched the restaurant manager after being denied his favorite form of eggs.
Yes, eating is a matter of personal choice, but in the restaurant business an outbreak of foodborne illness could close your doors. Restaurants must comply with the safe cooking temperatures listed in the Food Code used in their particular state or region. And, by the way, the customer didn't get his eggs after all, but he did receive a police escort out the restaurant door.
Being cautious with eggs is a smart idea. About 82 percent of Salmonella outbreaks between 1985 and 1991 were traced back to contaminated shell eggs. Sunnyside-up eggs, ice cream mix carried in a contaminated truck, French toast and hollandaise sauce all have been linked with Salmonella enteriditis outbreaks. More recently, scientists at the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service estimated that possibly 5 percent of all eggs in the food supply could be contaminated. Even though this is a fairly small fraction of total egg production, you don't know if you have the "lucky" egg in your hand or on your plate.
Each year about 883,000 cases of Salmonella occur from a variety of food sources. The flu-like symptoms that often result from a Salmonella infection usually prompt more careful eating or food preparation in the future. In the case of children, the immune-compromised and the elderly, a bout with food poisoning can be deadly.
The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service is cracking down on egg safety from farm to table. More consistent refrigeration at 45 F during distribution and a warning label, similar to what's found on most meat packages, are probably on the horizon.
Around the holidays, many an egg is cracked and made into holiday goodies. If these goodies are baked or cooked, Salmonella will be destroyed and the products will be safe to eat. If you enjoy eating foods containing uncooked eggs like unbaked cookie dough, home made ice cream, frostings made with egg whites, home made mayonnaise or Caesar salad dressing, or home made egg nog, you're taking some risks with your health.
You don't need to be an egghead to prevent foodborne illness. The USDA recommends that eggs be cooked until whites and yolks are firm and egg-based dishes reach an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees. Avoid cross-contamination of raw eggs with ready-to-eat foods by washing your hands, dishes, utensils, counters and anything that may have been in contact with raw eggs.
Try this holiday favorite from the American Egg Board. It's tasty and easy to make.
The newest entry, pasteurized eggs still in the shell, are an engineering marvel. Scientists spent three years developing and patenting a computerized machine that carries eggs by conveyor to a scale where they are weighed and sent to water baths. The trick is allowing heat to slowly penetrate the eggs without cooking them. The albumin, or white part of the egg, is especially heat sensitive and likely to congeal if slightly overheated. The pasteurized shell eggs are more costly than regular eggs, but as production increases the price may decrease.
Besides food safety issues, eggs have been beaten up about their cholesterol content. The effect of moderate egg consumption on health risk is debatable. A recent study of nearly 120,000 nurses and other health professionals showed that eating up an egg a day did not appear to increase their risk of heart disease in healthy men and women. The research was conducted at the Harvard School of Public Health and reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Eggs do contain cholesterol (about 215 milligrams per egg), but they're moderate in fat (5 grams fat per egg). A diet high in saturated fat has been shown to increase the risk of heart disease. To keep your saturated fat intake low while enjoying an occasional egg, use a non-stick pan, spray the pan with cooking spray or poach the eggs.
During the holiday season and into the new year, remember moderation in all things, and if you choose to nibble on the holiday treats before they're baked, it might be worth investing in pasteurized eggs.