Hot Topics: Is It Safe to Eat Eggs?

Hot Topics: Is It Safe to Eat Eggs?

Nearly 1,500 people have been infected with Salmonella since May, leading to the recall of a half-billion eggs nationwide. Investigators have traced the Salmonella bacteria to two farms in Iowa, which both issued recalls. Recalled eggs, however, may still be in grocery stores, restaurants, and consumer homes. Donald W. Schaffner, director of the Center for Advanced Food Technology and a professor at Rutgers, clears up misconceptions surrounding salmonellosis and offers safety tips for consumers.

Rutgers Today: Since the recall, many consumers have been afraid to eat or purchase eggs. Are their fears justified?

Donald W. Schaffner
Schaffner: If you live in New Jersey, that fear is probably not justified. I’ve been checking, and, so far, none of the stores that sell eggs in the state are affected by the recall. The School of Environmental and Biological Sciences has created a webpage that provides the most current information about the egg recall. The site includes links to the recalled product list, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The website also has helpful tips about egg safety.

Rutgers Today: How often do food outbreaks occur and why did this one get so much attention?

Schaffner: There are food poisoning outbreaks and product recalls that occur all the time. The ones that get the most attention affect large numbers of people, which is the case with this latest egg outbreak. Additionally, there has never been such a high profile egg outbreak before. The most recent outbreaks of this scale were associated with spinach, peanut butter and peppers.  In the cases of the peppers outbreak, the food was originally thought to be tomatoes.

Rutgers Today: Is it still safe to consume chicken or baked goods that contain eggs?

Schaffner:  Yes, these foods are safe, when properly prepared. Chicken should be cooked to a temperature of 160 F to kill Salmonella.  Baked and prepackaged foods containing eggs are heated during the manufacturing process, so any Salmonella that might be present are killed.

Rutgers Today: How does one handle raw eggs and poultry to prevent salmonella poisoning at home?

Schaffner: We know from previous research that 1 in 10,000 eggs typically may contain some Salmonella. That is a relatively low risk. The chances of getting salmonellosis poisoning increases when one practices risky behavior like eating a protein shake that contains a raw egg or licking a bowl of brownie batter that contains raw, unpasteurized eggs. Someone, however, would probably have to consume a lot of sunny-side-up eggs before eating a contaminated one.  To insure eggs and poultry are safe, make sure they are cooked to a temperature of 160 F.

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