Easter Eggs – Raw and Risky

Media release: 4 April 2012

With time for brunch and entertaining not all eggs consumed during the Easter break will be foil wrapped so many of us will have to lift our egg handling skills to avoid food poisoning.

According to a national Newspoll survey conducted for the Food Safety Information Council, almost one in five Australians are taking risks by not handling eggs and foods containing raw egg correctly.

Council Chairman, Dr Michael Eyles, says this creates potential for major food poisoning risks. Food Standards Australia New Zealand estimates there are about 12,800 cases of egg-related salmonellosis per year inAustralia, costing $44 million, and that the number of cases is rising.

‘Australian eggs are a convenient, cost effective, safe and nutritious food we should all enjoy. Unlike some overseas countries,Australiadoes not have the type of salmonella that get into the egg as it is formed by the hen. However, there is still a risk that salmonella on the shell can be transferred to the raw eggs through cracks and poor handling,’ Dr Eyles says.

‘While it is illegal to sell cracked or visibly dirty eggs inAustralia, they can become cracked after purchase. It is also becoming popular for people to keep their own laying hens.

‘Cracked and dirty eggs have been a key cause of contamination and many cases of illness have also been associated with uncooked or lightly-cooked foods containing contaminated raw egg such as sauces and desserts. Following simple tips released by the Food Safety Information Council today will keep you and your family safer,’ Dr Eyles concludes.

You can reduce your risk of food poisoning by following these simple tips:

  • Check your eggs for visible cracks, if cracked it is safest to discard them or cook thoroughly, for example in a baked cake.
  • Wash your hands after handling eggs so you don’t contaminate other food.
  • If you are not going to cook the eggs further, don’t separate the yolk from the white using the shell as that can contaminate it. Invest in a plastic egg separator.
    • Don’t prepare food containing raw egg for those vulnerable people at greater risk from food poisoning such as small children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems. Eggs can be cooked for these vulnerable people until the yolk has started to become firm or if in an omelet or scrambled has set.
    • Prepare raw egg foods (for example uncooked desserts such as mousses, sauces, fresh mayonnaise, egg nogs, health shakes with added raw egg, steak tartar) just before you are going to consume them. Refrigerate immediately at 5°C or under to impede bacteria growth. Raw egg foods should only be made in small portions which can be eaten at one sitting as the risk of food poisoning increases each time it is removed from refrigeration.
    • If you have your own hens, gather eggs from their nesting places daily. Carefully check any eggs for cracks and wipe off any visible dirt with a dry cloth or paper towel before washing your hands with soap and water and drying thoroughly. Don’t wash the eggs with water as this can increase the risk of bacteria entering the egg through fine cracks or pores, and may contaminate your sink and kitchen area.

The national Newspoll survey found that:

  • A total of 18% of Australians would not handle raw egg mayonnaise safely (9% would refrigerate after 30 minutes, 2% would leave overnight and 7% did not know).
  • Six in ten people (61%) correctly believed homemade whole egg mayonnaise should be put in the fridge straight away, and a further two in ten (21%) believe it should be left out for no more than half an hour.
  • Females and those living in the warmer regions (Qld & NT) were the most conscious of the need for prompt refrigeration.
  • In contrast, those with higher education levels are more likely to take a relaxed attitude, with 14% of those with a university degree considering it would still be OK after a few hours.
  • A small but significant group were unsure, notably among those aged 50+.

Food poisoning results, on average, in 120 deaths, 1.2 million visits to doctors, and 2.1 million days of lost work each year. The estimated annual cost of food poisoning inAustraliais $1.25 billion.

The Food Safety Information Council isAustralia’s leading disseminator of consumer- targeted food safety information. It is a non-profit entity supported by the Australian Department of Health and Ageing, state and territory health and food safety agencies, local government, and leading professional, industry and community organisations.

Media contact: Juliana Madden, Executive Officer: 0407 626 688, www.foodsafety.asn.au

Note: Pronunciation of ‘Eyles’: as for ‘British Isles’, or ‘supermarket aisles’.

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