When it comes to eating runny eggs these days, the experts are saying run away.
With salmonella concerns triggering the recall of more than a half-billion eggs in more than a dozen states, warnings are becoming more dire every day against eating undercooked yolks and translucent egg whites. But you don't have to give up eggs completely, just be careful how you eat them.
"No one should stop eating eggs because of this recall," says New York nutritionist Elisa Zied, R.D. "They pack in lots of high-quality protein and contain all the essential amino acids needed for the body to perform vital functions."
One large egg has more than 6 grams of protein for only 72 calories. Eggs are also rich in several vitamins and minerals, most notably selenium (important for thyroid function) and choline (important for brain function and heart health).
However, do not eat any of the recalled eggs. Nor should you ever consume raw or undercooked eggs or foods made with them, warns Zied, president of Zied Health Communications and author of "Nutrition At Your Fingertips."
That includes: homemade Caesar salad dressings, custards, or ice creams; raw cookie dough; over-easy eggs; Hollandaise sauce and protein shakes or drinks made with raw eggs.
No more oozing yolks
So what's a home cook to do? There's no one answer for every recipe, but cooking and food safety experts agree on a few basics to help keep foodies in the kitchen and out of the hospital.
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Casseroles and other dishes containing eggs should be cooked to a termperature of 160 F. Eggs and egg dishes, such as quiches or soufflés, may be refrigerated for serving later, but should be thoroughly reheated to 165 degrees F before serving, according to the Food and Drug Administration.
If you don't have a cooking thermometer, you can still fry or scramble eggs, but skip sunny-side or over-easy versions. Thoroughly cooked eggs are firm and not at all runny.
Eggs stored in their original carton remain fresh in the refrigerator for about a month after purchase. If you have any doubt, toss them out.
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"Eggs are cheap. Throw them away. It's that simple," said Brad Barnes, an associate dean at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y.
Mopping up oozing yolks with toast? Bad idea. Consider making hard-boiled eggs rather than soft by gently simmering them for about 15 minutes. Hard-boiled eggs last about a week in the refrigerator.
As for poached eggs, a little longer is a little better. Though most recipes suggest short cooking times in barely simmering water, for safety it's best to let the egg go for about 5 minutes at a gentle boil.
Remember the scene in "Rocky" when Sylvester Stallone downs raw eggs for his protein fix? Forget about adding raw eggs to protein shakes.
"We've got enough issues. Who needs to be barfing because of raw eggs?" asked Douglas Powell, an associate professor of food safety at Kansas State University and author of BarfBlog.com, which highlights food-handling problems in the news and in popular culture.
But what's a foodie to do when raw egg is essential to a recipe, as in mayonnaise and carbonara? Take a tip from Paul Stern, who cooks for the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, an Ashford, Conn., camp for seriously ill children, many with compromised immune systems.
Last year, they cracked about 300 shell eggs every morning. This year, the camp switched (before the recall) to pasteurized liquid egg product.
"I wouldn't be consuming or serving raw eggs any more than I'd be eating or serving raw chicken," said Stern.
As the name implies, pasteurized egg product — usually sold in cartons near the milk — has been gently heated to kill off pathogens, meaning it should be safe to consume even when not fully cooked. It's not a perfect substitution, but for most home cooks it should do the job just fine.
"It's not exactly the same as a fresh egg, of course, but certainly in this instance — and I'm sure they'll have this situation cleaned up pretty rapidly — I think everybody should be able to make do for a few days," said Barnes.
The Centers for Disease Control has said there could be as many as 1,300 salmonella illnesses linked to the eggs, and that for every reported case there could be 30 or more that go unreported.
San Francisco-based food scientist Harold McGee, author of the upcoming "Keys to Good Cooking," isn't all that worried.
Though he gets his eggs from local producers, he said he wouldn't hesitate to consume uncooked supermarket eggs in a recipe. He would draw the line at serving them to a pregnant woman, child or elderly person or someone with an illness that might weaken their immunity.
But overall, he thinks the odds of getting sick favor the home cook.
"For home cooks, it's less of a problem than for institutions that are going to be cracking lots and lots of eggs and then pooling them to make a particular dish," he said. "The moment you start to add more than one egg to what you're making, mathematically your odds of having a problem go up."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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