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Raw eggs are no yolk.

The problems of diseased poultry have been given much media attention of late. The source of some 40,000 sporadic salmonella infections in the United States each year, as well as many group outbreaks of gastroenteritis, the subject has even warranted a recent Congressional hearing. We have been cautioned about the necessity of thoroughly washing the cutting boards and utensils used in preparing raw poultry for cooking. We have also been warned about refrigerating the prepared food if there is a gap between the time of cooking and of serving it. We have not heard so much, however, about the danger of salmonella infection from raw or partially cooked eggs.

Most of us would probably not think of drinking unpasteurized eggnog, but what about the hollandaise or Bearnaise sauce served in our favorite restaurant? What about meringues from our local bakery, or good old French toast prepared in our own kitchen? Each of these foods has raw eggs in them which may not be thoroughly cooked before being served. And what about soft-boiled eggs in which the yolks are only partially cooked?

It is usually assumed that using only eggs with undamaged shells and washing them carefully before opening them will avoid the problem. This is not necessarily so. In rare instances, the salmonella organisms can pass from the ovary of an infected hen into either the yolk or the egg white before the shell is formed. Given the enormous numbers of eggs consumed in this country, and the fact that many restaurants, retailers, and other institutions store eggs at room temperature, there is a distinct risk of salmonella infection from eggs that are undercooked.

Even at low room temperature 680), one salmonella bacterium will multiply a million-fold in 40 hours-and in only half that time at 770, which is more likely the temperature to be found in a commercial kitchen. In 1990, 21 of the 23 salmonella food poisoning epidemics reported in the United States that were attributed to infected eggs were from food prepared in commercial establishments.

Whether one becomes clinically ill from consuming partially cooked eggs depends on a number of factors. Among these are the number of bacteria in the egg before cooking, whether the USDA-recommended temperature of 1600 was reached in cooking, and the consumer's state of health. Infants, the elderly, those in institutions, and those with compromised immune systems (e.g., AIDS patients) are especially at risk. Several deaths of persons in these groups occur each year from salmonella food poisoning. Pregnant women should also avoid the possibility of infection.

Salmonella organisms are not limited to eggs and poultry, however. They c an be found in almost every variety of raw meat, and they can infest the intestinal tract of household pets (and hence transfer themselves to food by unwashed hands). By far the largest source, nonetheless, are chickens and their eggs-the mainstays of many of our diets.
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Title Annotation:salmonella infection from eggs
Publication:Medical Update
Date:Aug 1, 1991
Words:484
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