Salmonella Is in the Air

Whether it’s at an Easter celebration, Passover brunch, Zoroastrian No Ruz party, or Wiccan Ostara event, someone soon is going to hand you an egg. Is this the culinary equivalent of a loaded gun? Here’s our report.

What’s so dangerous about raw eggs?
The yolk might contain salmonella, a bacterium that’s found in the intestinal tract of animals, birds, reptiles, insects, and people. And in chicken ovaries, which is how it gets into yolks.

How serious is salmonella?
Not extremely, unless you’re a kid, elderly, or have immune system problems. The USDA estimates that 1.3 million people become infected a year, with 600 fatalities.

How often do you get bad eggs?
One in every 10,000.

What’s the biggest risk?
Brunch. When restaurants crack a bunch of eggs for French toast or scrambles, they could be creating food-poisoning petri dishes. The more eggs you pool, the greater the risk you’ll get a bad one. Then add the fact that salmonella grows at the same temperature as most commercial kitchens (95 degrees). “So the longer time you keep [the eggs] out in the roasting pan or whatever, the greater opportunity for the numbers to get to the levels that will make people sick,” says Richard Vergili, a professor at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York.

Is it true that if you wash the eggshells, you’re safe?
No. Your eggs are already carefully washed and sanitized; the USDA requires it. They’re also coated with a tasteless, natural mineral oil to protect them.

Pasteurized eggs seem like a solution. Do they taste funny?
No, they taste the same. They might look and act a little different, however. They’ve been slowly heated to kill bacteria, including salmonella, so the whites are slightly opaque. And it takes eight times as long to whip up the whites.