Many readers may be following the story in the U.S. about an epidemic of stomach infections from eggs contaminated with salmonella bacteria. This bacteria can live both inside and outside eggs, which otherwise may look perfectly normal. The main way to prevent such outbreaks is for the chicken farms to prevent rodents and other animals from contaminating the chicken coops; also, pasteurizing can destroy the bacteria. Otherwise, for consumers, the key is to assume that your eggs have bacteria and thus to always fully cook your eggs; those of you who like your eggs sunny-side up or a bit runny (like me) are taking a risk. The next best prevention is to prevent the bacteria from growing, which is why all eggs should be refrigerated — at all times.
Refrigeration — from the farm to the store to the kitchen — is common practice in the U.S., but I have only seen one market here in China put any eggs in cold storage (my local April Gourmet). The eggs usually sit in enormous piles in supermarket center aisles; even the joint venture megamarkets Walmart and Carrefour are strangely unaware of the obvious food safety dangers.
Since it’s apparently almost impossible in China to buy refrigerated eggs, Beijingers should be even more vigilant with proper handling and cooking; here are the main safety tips from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (Tips to Reduce Your Risk of Salmonella from Eggs):
- 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 restaurant dishes made with raw or undercooked, unpasteurized eggs. Restaurants 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.
Followup, September 3rd…
Since the above post was published, I’ve been getting some interesting feedback from readers, and it does indeed seem that most countries typically do not refrigerate their eggs, including most of Europe. Is that true, readers? The US, Canada and Australia seem to now require this; perhaps one of the main problems actually is the production methods in the US, where gigantic chicken farms and cages are a breeding ground for salmonella. Also, apparently most countries’ egg suppliers are closer to markets than in the US, and many countries also do not initially wash off all eggs, thus preserving that outer layer. So maybe it’s the industrial process that necessitates refrigerator use. But in all cases, I still saw a general consensus, including from egg councils, that eggs last longer when refrigerated. Egg cartons in China also say this: many cartons mention a shelf-life of 30 days at room temperature and 45 days in the refrigerator.
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