Is It Safe to Eat Raw Eggs?
Mention eating raw eggs to someone, and they will most likely think of two things: food poisoning and bodybuilding. The fear of contracting a bout of salmonella poisoning stops many people from eating them raw. However, a great many people worldwide consume raw eggs regularly and safely.
Raw and undercooked eggs are safe to eat when you practice good food hygiene. They are actually easier to digest than cooked eggs. Eggs are packed with healthy protein, a variety of vitamins and minerals (A, D, B2, B6, B9, B12, iron and zinc), and the important omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, making them a great food in a healthy diet. Many foods and dressings are made with raw or undercooked eggs. It is quite likely you have often safely eaten them raw without even realizing it!
Cooking with raw eggs
Many dishes around the world feature them in sauces, condiments, or as part of the main dish. Protein bio-availability is higher in cooked eggs than in raw1, plus nutrition in eggs is better when hens can roam freely and forage for their food. Eggs are good sources of selenium, phosphorus, vitamin B12, riboflavin, and omega 3 and 6 fatty acids.
Nutrition in a 50g Raw Egg
% Daily Value
- raw cookie and cake dough
- ice cream or sorbet made with egg yolk
- unbaked cheesecake with egg whites
- tiramisu (Italy)
- chiboust cream—used as a pastry filling (France)
- mousse—chocolate or other dessert mousses made with whipped egg whites
Condiments and Sauces
- aioli—garlic mayonnaise (Spain)
- sauce béarnaise and hollandaise (France)
- poached, soft-boiled, or sunny-side-up eggs
- Caesar salad with soft-poached eggs
- pasta carbonara with lightly cooked egg
- steak tartare with a raw egg yolk
- tamago gohan—an egg sauce mixed into rice (Japan)
- sukiyaki—meat is dipped in beaten raw egg before eaten (Japan)
- shakshuka—poached eggs and tomato sauce (Israel)
- bimbibap—rice with sautéed vegetables and meat, topped with a raw egg (Korea)
Risk of Salmonella Contamination
The most common form of egg contamination is with the bacteria Salmonella Enteritidis, which causes food poisoning (diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and fever). Many people exposed to the bacteria do not develop symptoms, but exposure can be dangerous for immune-compromised people (pregnant, elderly, infirm).
A 2010 study of death certificates in the US discovered that there were, on average, 82 deaths per year caused by salmonella (from all food sources, not just eggs).2 An earlier study in 2002 by the US Department of Agriculture found that only 1 in 30,000 eggs produced were contaminated with salmonella.3 That is 0.00003% of the number of eggs produced annually. These two studies show that the risk of contracting salmonella from eggs is extremely low. You can take steps to lower that risk further.
Heat and Acid kill Salmonella Bacteria
Cooking eggs and meat thoroughly kills the Salmonella enteriditis bacteria, as it can not survive heat-treatment. Pasteurized (heat-treated) eggs may be available in your area and are a good choice for those who are frail or immune-compromised.
Pasteurize your own eggs by holding them in 60°C or 140°F water for 4 minutes. The water is not hot enough to cook the eggs, but it is hot enough to kill bacteria.
TIp: Acids, such as vinegar and lemon and lime juice, also kill bacteria.
How to Handle Eggs Safely and Avoid Salmonella
By following good food-handling practices and purchasing eggs from healthy hens, you reduce the risk of contamination further.
- Wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling food.
- Purchase organic, free-range eggs. Hens that have space to roam and eat a natural diet are healthier, and good living conditions reduce the risk of contamination.
- Ensure the eggs are fresh, and keep them covered in a refrigerator. Eggshells are porous and can absorb odors from other items in the fridge.
- Alternatively, you can freeze eggs outside of their shells in ice-cube trays and then store the frozen egg-cubes in a sealed freezer bag.
- Use your eggs within two weeks of purchase.
- Wash eggshells under water just before cracking them.
- Avoid using any eggs that have cracked shells.
- Prevent cross-contamination by washing containers and surfaces that have been in contact with raw eggs before using them for other foods.
Raw Eggs Are as Safe as Salad, Peanut Butter and Fruit
Outbreaks of salmonella poisoning originating from salad vegetables4, sprouts5, peanuts6, and even fruit (watermelon7) have shown that safe handling of all produce is important throughout food production and processing lines and also by consumers.
Raw and undercooked eggs are used in so many dishes, sweets, and treats that it would be a shame to not eat them. Choose cold, fresh, free-range eggs, handle them hygienically, and follow good food-safety practices. If you do all of these things, you can be sure your eggs are safe for eating!
Digestibility of Cooked and Raw Egg Protein in Humans as Assessed by Stable Isotope Techniques, P. Evenepoel, B. Geypens, A. Luypaerts, M. Hiele, Y. Ghoos, P. Rutgeerts, Journal of Nutrition, October 1, 1998 128(10): 1716-1722
Salmonellosis-Related Mortality in the United States, 1990–2006, P. L. Cummings, F. Sorvillo, and T. Kuo. Foodborne Pathogens and Disease. November 2010, 7(11): 1393-1399
An overview of the Salmonella enteritidis risk assessment for shell eggs and egg products, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service, Risk Analysis, April 2002 , 22(2): 203-18.
Taylor Farms Retail Inc. Initiates A Precautionary Recall Because Of Possible Salmonella Risk, US Food and Drug Administration, 19 October, 2011
- Risks associated with sprouts, Health Canada, August 2011
How does salmonella get into peanut butter? And can you kill it once it's there?, Scientific American, 13 January, 2009
Watermelon found to be source of salmonella outbreak, BBC, 2 February, 2012