Scientists Answer Two FAQs about Egg Safety

EggsSince the major egg outbreak and recall in 2010, Shelf Life Advice visitors are asking more questions about the safe handling and consumption of eggs.  Recently, Chicagoan Kay M. sent us two egg-related questions; one about organic eggs and another about raw egg whites. Here are her questions and the responses from 4 scientists. 


Question:  The recipe I have for a cake frosting calls for raw egg whites. Is it safe to frost a cake with these?


Response from Dr. Karin Allen, Department of Nutrition, Dietetics, and Food Sciences, Utah State University:”


Unless the product is cooked to 165°F, it isn’t safe to use raw egg whites.  For meringue recipes that call for mixing in heated sugar syrup to an egg white foam, it’s not guaranteed that the whites will reach a high enough temperature.  Most specialty kitchen stores and many grocery stores carry dried egg whites that have been through a pasteurization process, so they’re safe to use in uncooked products.  The package should contain instructions for mixing up the equivalent of 1 large egg white, and they work very well in most recipes.  I recommend storing the dried egg whites in the freezer between uses to extend their shelf life.  Another option would be meringue powder, which contains dried egg whites, sugar, and a gum stabilizer, but, when using this, the amount of sugar in the recipe would have to be reduced."


Response from Dr. Catherine Cutter, Department of Food Science, Pennsylvania State University:


"Raw eggs (yolk or white) can contain Salmonella.  Even though frosting contains plenty of  sugar to lower the water activity, pathogens have the potential to survive. Therefore, I recommend using Egg Beaters since they are pasteurized. In fact, Egg Beaters go through double pasteurization, so it's safe to consume them raw. 


"Still, Egg Beaters are made from real egg whites, so all the safety precautions you would follow with shell eggs apply when handling this product. Wash hands, kitchen surfaces, and cooking utensils thoroughly after working with Egg Beaters."


Question:  Which eggs are more likely to be contaminated, organic or nonorganic ones?


Response from Dr. Paul H. Patterson (from the Department of Poultry Science, Pennsylvania State University:


"Organic hens must be floor-reared birds with outdoor access. There is some data suggesting that the eggs from these hens have greater micro and mold load in their eggs than do eggs from caged hens. While washing should take care of external contamination, that would not impact an egg that was contaminated from a hen's systemic infections. Organic hens are exposed to more risk with outdoor access, access to the soil, and access to their own feces. However, organic production is difficult to categorize because some methods are very much back yard, and others are quite sophisticated with vaccinated hens, environmentally controlled buildings, sanitized drinking systems, etc. This is where proper refrigeration, use-by dates, and proper cooking come in to protect the consumer from hens and eggs that have not been handled properly."


Response from Dr. Joe Regenstein (Department of Food Science, Cornell University):


"If eggs are properly cooked, they should not cause a problem.  However, I worry about the shells of organic eggs having more bacteria than regular eggs, so cross-contamination from the eggs could be a problem."


[For more information on handling eggs and egg safety, click here on these links:]




Paul H. Patterson, Ph.D. Department of Poultry Science, Pennsylvania State University


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


Catherine N. Cutter, Ph.D., Pennsylvania State University, Dept. of Food Science


Joe Regenstein, Ph.D., Cornell University, Dept. of Food Science






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