I’ve received quite a few emails asking about egg safety since I began this grand digression a week ago. Though I don’t want to get too deep into the subject — there are baked Alaskas to make — I do have a few thoughts.
I can remember being amazed and disappointed when, back in the late 80?s, the FDA announced that until further notice all raw eggs and poultry were going to be classified hazardous materials. It was the dawn of the day of Salmonella enteriditis. I remember thinking: this can’t be permanent, right? But alas it was (is), even though the odds of encountering a Salmonella-infected egg were, and remain, remote. At the height of the Salmonella scare, it was thought that one in every 10,000 eggs was infected. Most food safety experts today believe it’s more like one in every 20,000 or even 30,000. By comparison, up to one in every 7 chickens you take home from the market is thought to be infected with the bacteria.
Fortunately, a Salmonella infection is rarely the horror that a bad case of E. Coli can be. Most of the time the worst thing Salmonella does is keep you tied to nearest bathroom for a day or two. A case of E. Coli 0157:H7, by comparison, can kill you. In rare cases Salmonella has been known to cause more serious organ infections and a painful condition called Reiter’s syndrome, which can last for months or even years.
Yet the interesting thing about a Salmonella-infected egg is that it’s unlikely to do you much harm if you simply gobble it down à la Rocky. Why? Because most of the time there aren’t enough of the microbes in the egg to cause an infection. It’s when Salmonella are provided with the food, water, time, temperature, pH they need to grow that they become a threat. Salad dressings are the classic example, which is why you can’t get a really good Ceasar salad anymore. By comparison a simple omelet with a soft, custardy center probably won’t hurt you if you eat it hot out of the pan.
Yes, safety nuts, I will definitely admit that it’s always better to be safe than sorry where raw eggs are concerned, especially in a commercial setting. Still, freaking out over a little raw egg here or there doesn’t make much sense either.