Food Safety Update: Salmonella and Eggs

By: Tony Flood   Date: 8/19/10

The recent recall of over 380 million eggs due to salmonella concerns has a lot of people asking the question, "What should I do to keep safe?"  My brother who lives in Texas, where a cluster of illnesses has been identified actually asked me about this recall.  While I was surprised, I was also glad that he was seeking information and that he actually asked me. Here are a few things I told him.

Check your egg cartons and look for a few things.  In particular, check for certain brand names.  Also, look for a specific set of numbers called 'Julian' dates which indicate specific dates of production.  If they fall between a certain set of numbers, it's a very good chance they are part of this recall and should be thrown out!  That's right thrown out immediately.  Do not eat them - don't even try to cook them.  Or if you choose, return them to the store in their original carton where they will likely give you a refund.  You can visit the FDA website for a list of brand names and Julian dates to better identify recalled products.

Facts About Salmonella
I also shared with him a few facts about Salmonella - a very serious part of this recall.  This outbreak of Salmonella has reportedly sickened people in several states and unfortunately will likely sicken more.  The good news is that no deaths have been associated with this outbreak so far.  Salmonella is perhaps most common in raw or undercooked poultry and egg products, however it can occur in meats, milk and dairy products.  Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, cramps, fever, headache and chills - anywhere between 6 - 48 hours with possible arthritic symptoms 3 - 4 weeks after the onset of acute symptoms.  If you experience any of these symptoms particularly after consuming eggs, visit your health care provider immediately.  With Salmonella, many people may just feel uncomfortable for a few days or even complain about a bad belly ache.  However, it is extremely important for those with weakened immune systems such as young children, pregnant women and older Americans - like my 84 year old mother, to get immediate medical attention as the immune system is not as strong as it used to be.  Weak immune systems make it a lot harder to fight off Salmonella or any other foodborne illness that may occur.

Steps to Reduce Risk
Here's more practical advice from the CDC about Salmonella and eggs which everyone should keep in mind every day to help reduce or eliminate the risk of foodborne illness and to keep from getting sick.
- Keep eggs refrigerated at = 45° F (=7° C) at all times.
- Discard cracked or dirty eggs.
- Wash hands, cooking utensils, and food preparation surfaces with soap and water after contact with raw eggs.
- Eggs should be cooked until both the white and the yolk are firm and eaten promptly after cooking.
- Do not keep eggs warm or at room temperature for more than 2 hours.
- Refrigerate unused or leftover egg-containing foods promptly.
- Avoid eating raw eggs.
- Avoid dishes made with raw or undercooked, unpasteurized eggs. You should use pasteurized eggs in any recipe (such as Hollandaise sauce or Caesar salad dressing) that calls for raw eggs.
- Consumption of raw or undercooked eggs should be avoided, especially by young children, elderly persons, and persons with weakened immune systems or debilitating illness

For more information about foodborne illness see our Consumer's Guide to Food Safety Risks.