Eggs: Why the Recall; How to Handle Eggs Safely

Food recallHard to believe the humble, ordinary little egg could become such big news.  But August 13 was the start date of a nationwide recall involving more than 550 million shell eggs (out of a national production of some 90 billion). The recall has involved at least 14 states and has caused the illness of about 1,500 people.  (That number is expected to increase as August figures come in.)


The thought of eating eggs possibly contaminated with Salmonella Enteritidis (SE) may make some consumers switch to cereal for breakfast.  But there’s no need for such drastic action.  It’s not difficult to avoid illness even if  you happen to have purchased a tainted egg.  Proper hygiene and cooking is all that’s needed. 


Unfortunately, you can’t tell if an egg is contaminated just by looking at it.  But, if you cook it to the proper temperature, you’ll kill any salmonella that might be present and avoid illness. As food scientist Dr.  Karin Allen explained, SE is killed if the egg is cooked to 160ºF.  If you don’t have a food thermometer (and you should), be sure that neither the yolk nor the white is still runny.


So why, you may ask, if consumers can kill salmonella pathogens by proper cooking, was it necessary to recall half a billion eggs?  One reason is that many people do not cook eggs or egg dishes to a high enough temperature to kill the bacteria and, as a result, they do get sick.  For example, sunnyside-up eggs may be undercooked on the sunny side.


Another problem is cross-contamination.  Suppose you handle a raw egg and then, without washing your hands, slice up some watermelon.  The bacteria won’t remain in your properly cooked eggs, but you’ll digest them along with the raw fruit.  Salmonella can also contaminate other foods in your kitchen if it gets transferred to utensils or counters. Therefore, it’s strongly recommended that, if you have eggs that are part of this or any other recall, avoid risk by returning them to the store for refund or simply discarding them.


The eggs produced on the farms involved in the recall were sold under many brand names.  Those from the Wright County Egg Farm (in Iowa) were distributed to stores under these names (and perhaps others): Lucerne, Albertson, Mountain Dairy, Ralph’s, Boomsma’s, Sunshine, Hillandale, Trafficanda, Farm Fresh, Shoreland, Lund, Dutch Farms, and Kemps.  Eggs part of this recall are stamped with Julian dates 136-225 (May 5-August 25).  The recalled eggs from Iowa’s Hillandale Farms were sold under these brand names (and perhaps others): Hillandale Farms, Sunny Farms, Sunny Meadow, Wholesome Farms, Moark, NuCalFoods, and West Creek.   For further information on  recalled brands and code numbers , consult the Egg Safety Center  at or click on these  government links:


Wondering how bad it can be if  you’re unlucky enough  to  consume salmonella along with your eggs?   For healthy adults, it can be unpleasant, the trouble beginning 8 – 72 hours after consumption and causing 4-7 days of misery--diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, fever, and abdominal cramps.  Rarely, it can lead to more serious complications even for those in good health.  For young children, the elderly, and others with weakened immune systems, salmonella can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections. So far, no deaths have been reported from this egg recall.


Wondering how salmonella gets in or on eggs?  Consumers tend to assume that the problem is related to chickens kept in unsanitary conditions (for example, in contact with fecal matter or rodents), and these may be the causes with this particular recall.      According to Dr. Allen, salmonella can be present even under the most pristine conditions on the farm. It can also lie in the intestine or ovaries of the chicken and be transferred to the egg before the shell is even formed. What further complicates the matter is that healthy-looking chickens may lay mostly normal eggs and only an occasional infected one.


Even if salmonella can’t be entirely eliminated from the egg supply, it can probably be reduced. The FDA’s new egg safety ruling (which became effective on July 9, 2010) regulates producers of more than 50,000 laying hens. (That’s about 80% of the market.)  Now, producers must have a written SE prevention plan. The FDA estimates that new procedures will result in a nearly 60% reduction in SE in eggs. 


A summary of safety tips when handling eggs:


Refrigerate eggs in their carton and not in the door of the fridge.


Discard cracked or dirty eggs.


Wash egg shells and your hands before cracking the shells.  (Salmonella can be on the shell and/or the edible part of the egg.)


After cooking eggs, wash your hands and all the utensils that the eggs touched.


Clean counters with disinfectant after exposure to raw eggs.


Cook all eggs and dishes containing eggs until the center reaches at least 160ºF.


When making recipes that call for eggs to remain uncooked (such as Hollandaise sauce or Caesar salad dressing), use pasteurized eggs.  These have been bathed in water hot enough to kill the bacteria but not hot enough to cook the egg.


For homemade ice cream recipes that call for raw eggs, use a cooked egg-and-milk mixture, heated to 160°F.


Refrigerate all cooked egg dishes within one hour after serving.


And a few don’ts:


In a restaurant, don’t eat eggs that look undercooked. Some foods you order in a restaurant may be made with raw or undercooked eggs.  These include Hollandaise sauce, Caesar salad dressing, mayonnaise, mousses, ice cream, and meringue-topped pies.  Ask if any of these are made with Pasteurized eggs.  If not, don't eat them.


Don’t get so anxious about egg contamination that you throw out raw eggs as soon as they reach their “sell-by” date.  Eggs are fine to use 4-5 weeks after that date.


Don’t conclude that the only and certain road to avoiding contaminated eggs is by switching to organic eggs or those labeled that they’re from “free-range” or “cage-free” chickens.  More time outdoors doesn’t necessarily mean chickens will escape salmonella. Furthermore, some free-range chickens may not really roam very freely.  Some may enjoy a lot of time outdoors, but USDA regulations stipulate only that the chickens’ cages must have a door to the outside.  Some chickens are so unfamiliar with the outdoors that they never go out the door.  Also, cage-free animals may still live in crowded facilities.

For eggs to be labeled “organic,” they must come from farms that meet USDA standards and be inspected regularly to guarantee compliance. They must be fed organic feed with no animal by-products, be given no hormones, and be given antibiotics only for disease outbreaks. They must be kept in a cage-free environment with access to the outdoors.  But even these precautions do not ensure safe eggs. Though small flocks are less likely to carry salmonella, it’s not impossible for them to become contaminated.


Bottom line: Obey recalls, and handle all eggs as if they were contaminated because there’s a slim chance they could be.  According to, the risk of an egg being contaminated with salmonella bacteria is about 1 in 20,000.   However, remember that, at home, proper handling and sufficient cooking will protect you from any risk of Salmonella contamination. Enjoy your omelet.


For a list of Q/As about eggs on, click here:




Karin E. Allen, Ph.D., Utah State University, Department of Nutrition, Dietetics, and Food Sciences.


Food safety on  “Recall expands to more than half a billion eggs”


Egg Safety Center  “Alerts: Recall—Affected Brands and Descriptions”


Chicago Tribune   “Things to know about the egg recall and salmonella” August 19, 2010, p.22.


Food  “Eggs and Egg Products: Egg Safety and Salmonella”  “Egg-splained: Free –range, cage-free and organic”  August 20, 2010  "Egg Safety and Eating Out"




Food safety on  “Recall expands to more than half a billion eggs”


Egg Safety Center  “Alerts: Recall—Affected Brands and Descriptions”


Incredible! Home of the incredible egg  “Eggs and Food Safety”


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