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"Can you get salmonella from raw eggs?"

Dear Anne and Sue,

Some people are concerned with the threat of salmonella associated with raw eggs. Should we still be concerned in this day and age? Also, someone told me as long as you add lemon juice to an uncooked egg, you're fine. They even said lemon juice will fry an egg. Is this true? It sounds pretty far-fetched!

Thank You,
Summer Mayes


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Thanks for the question, Summer. You've asked one many people wonder about. In order for salmonella to cause illness, several conditions must exist. First, there must be salmonella present in the food. It's highly unusual to find bacteria inside eggs because they have some very sophisticated defense mechanisms, which make them hostile to bacterial growth. According to the American Egg Board, an average of 1 in every 20,000 eggs in the United States might contain the bacteria.
Secondly, the bacteria must be present in numbers large enough to cause illness. So the food must support the growth of salmonella and so must the temperature (the "danger zone" is between 40-140° F / 4-60° C). Thus, eggs have the potential of being a hospitable environment, and raw and lightly cooked dishes present the greatest risk. It's true that salmonella won't grow in a highly acidic recipe with a pH of 4.0 or less, but the American Egg Board cautions against relying on acidic ingredients to destroy bacteria since there are too many variables at work. Acidic ingredients don't have a constant pH. Neither do eggs, since they become more alkaline as they age. And perhaps most key is that few kitchens have a pH meter for testing.

To be safe, children under ten, infants, pregnant women, and those whose immune systems are compromised, should eat only dishes made from fully cooked shell eggs or pasteurized eggs/egg products. You can alter recipes containing raw eggs using the methods suggested on the American Egg Board's website.

If you don't fall into the above categories, ask yourself, "What is an acceptable level of risk for me?" Unless you live in an area where there has been an outbreak of salmonella in eggs, the American Egg Board estimates the likelihood of an egg containing salmonella is approximately five one-thousandths of one percent. At this rate they suggest, if you're an average consumer, you might encounter a contaminated egg once every 84 years!

As to lemon juice "frying" an egg, try it and see. But be patient—it may take several days. And you may need so much lemon juice that you'll have no appetite for this "fried" egg. An egg fried in a medium-hot pan sounds a whole lot more appealing.

Anne & Sue




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