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Egg safety - what, why and how

Tuesday 18 April 2017

A carton of eggs sits open on a kitchen bench.>
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Being aware of egg safety can prevent you or those you are cooking for from getting sick.

Eggs – they’re a great source of protein, make yummy breakfasts and are useful for baking, but when it comes to egg safety, there can be confusion. Keep them in the fridge or on the shelf? Wash or don’t wash? Are foods containing raw eggs alright to eat?

We’ve got the low-down on egg safety and how you can keep nasty bugs like salmonella at bay while enjoying your favourite eggy foods.

Why can eggs be unsafe to eat?

While eggs contain great nutrients like vitamin b12, vitamin D and amino acids, they can also contain salmonella, a naturally occurring bacteria which causes gastroenteritis in humans.

Commonly known as gastro or food poisoning, gastroenteritis can cause vomiting and diarrhoea in humans. Infections can lead to severe illness or death in at-risk people including pregnant women, young children, older adults and people with a weakened immune system.

There’s no way to tell if an egg contains salmonella. It won’t look or smell any different from a non-infected egg. But, you can follow the steps listed below to reduce your risk of salmonella infection.

How can you reduce the chance of a salmonella infection?

Cooking eggs all the way through significantly reduces the risk of salmonella infection, as the heat used in cooking kills salmonella bacteria. Eggs should be cooked until the yolks and whites are firm, whether they’re boiled, scrambled, poached or fried. Cook scrambled and fried eggs in small batches to enable them to cook the whole way through. Always wash your hands before and after handling eggs.

Like all food products, eggs should be stored in accordance with the manufacturer’s directions. You’ll find these instructions printed on the egg carton. Most egg producers in Australia recommend that eggs are stored below 15°C. This means that if the temperature in your kitchen is warmer than this, and in Queensland it most likely will be, then you should store your eggs in the fridge. Refrigeration will also extend the life of your eggs, so it’s a good way to cut down on food wastage, too.

Never wash an egg, as this might actually help salmonella transfer inside. Always throw away eggs with cracked or dirty shells, both of which increase the risk of salmonella infection.

What about foods containing raw eggs?

Foods like mayonnaise, mousse and cheesecake can contain raw eggs. You can minimise the risk of salmonella infection from these foods by:

  • ensuring the eggs you are using are clean and the shells are not cracked
  • making the food item on the day you plan to eat it
  • keeping eggs refrigerated until you are ready to use them
  • always storing raw egg foods in the fridge until serving
  • throwing away foods with raw eggs in them if they are out of the fridge for more than four hours
  • throwing away foods with raw eggs in them after one day
  • and packing foods that contain raw egg in an insulated cooler with enough ice, ice blocks or frozen drinks to keep them cold when transporting them.

What if I have my own chickens?

Eggs bought from retail outlets undergo a cleaning process [PDF 1.00MB] before being sold. If you collect eggs from your own chickens, this process won’t have been completed.

To reduce the risk of salmonella infection you should collect eggs twice a day, particularly in warmer weather that will help promote the growth of bacteria. Throw away eggs that are cracked, broken or might have lain undiscovered in a nest for an extended period of time.

To clean your eggs, wipe them with a paper towel to remove any dirt or faeces, and use a new paper towel for each egg. Remember: never wash eggs. If an egg will not wipe clean, it should be discarded.

Store your eggs in clean containers in the fridge, and find a way to know which eggs are which, so that you use the oldest eggs first.

More information

You can download Queensland Health’s food safety factsheet ‘Salmonella – Egg safety for the consumer’ [PDF 798 KB] to print or share.

Last updated: 18 April 2017