Is that Right? Sunny-side-up eggs are okay to eat?
I did a double-take when I saw an ad for Eggland's Best eggs on TV the other night. Were those really sunny-side-up eggs on that plate? And was someone really going to eat them?
I am among those who take warnings about eating undercooked (and raw) eggs seriously. Maybe my odds of getting salmonella from a runny egg or a hunk of unbaked cookie dough are low, but it just doesn't seem worth the risk. (Having once cared for my young son as he suffered through a salmonella infection he apparently got from a pet salamander, I'm particularly keen to avoid a repeat.) So it's been years and years since I've tasted a sunny-side-up egg, something I loved eating when I was a kid.
But if I were to learn it was okay to indulge after all, I'd happily do so.
I asked Bart Slaugh, director of quality assurance for Eggland's Best, whether there was something about his company's eggs that made them impervious to salmonella contamination. Yes and no, he said. The company does have a strict quality control program aimed at ensuring that no contaminants creep into the eggs at any stage of the production process, he told me. On top of that, Eggland's Best vaccinates its hens against salmonella.
But that doesn't mean that by the time you get your eggs home and into the frying pan they're guaranteed to be contaminant-free. As the U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires of all eggs, Eggland's Best eggs come in a carton that bears the following FDA "safe handling instructions":
"To prevent illness from bacteria, keep eggs refrigerated, cook eggs until yolks are firm, and cook foods containing eggs thoroughly."
That firm-yolks guideline, Slaugh says, is meant to ensure that even those with compromised immune systems and others who are particularly vulnerable to food poisoning (such as very young children and very old people) are protected.
The rest of us can safely eat a sunny-side-up egg, Slaugh says, provided it's cooked until the white is firm and the yolk has started to thicken. Those signs indicate that the egg's surface temperature has reached 165 degrees to 170 degrees, well above the 160 degrees deemed safe by the American Egg Board, he said.
I checked that out with Mark Kantor, an associate professor in the department of nutrition and food science at the University of Maryland. Kantor wasn't sure about eyeballing an egg to gauge whether it's safe to eat. "I would be a little skeptical about judging the temperature you've reached just by the appearance of the egg," he said. The only way to know for sure would be to use a thermometer, which Kantor acknowledges is inconvenient and, when checking fried eggs, kind of tricky.
Still, the decision to eat a sunny-side-up egg is a matter of risk assessment, Kantor says. The vast majority of eggs in the U.S. are not contaminated with salmonella; only an estimated 1 in 10,000 is, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
On top of that, he told me, while salmonella can indeed make you sick, it's a far less worrisome pathogen than, say, E. coli or listeria. Its symptoms are usually mild, he said, and people with healthy immune systems can usually handle an infection just fine.
So would Kantor eat a sunny-side-up egg? Sure, he said -- if he liked them. Turns out he prefers his eggs cooked till they're harder, anyway. But he would not allow his children, with their less-developed immune systems, to indulge. That risk, though small, is still too great for him.
Read more about egg safety here.
And do tell:
Jennifer LaRue Huget
February 5, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories: Food Safety and Recalls , Is That Right? , Nutrition and Fitness | Tags: Eggland's Best, egg nutrition, egg salmonella, is that right?, undercooked egg safety
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