Incorrectly handling, decorating or even cooking eggs can cause serious illnesses, and any plans to decorate eggs for Easter should be undertaken with care.
“Many people think that the shell protects the egg from contamination, but it doesn’t,” said Agriculture Secretary Joe Bartenfelder. “Shells are very porous so we urge everyone to take care when decorating or hiding eggs for the holidays.”
Because eggs are handled more than usual when they are being hard boiled, dyed and hunted for fun, the risk of eggs being contaminated with bacterium is much higher than usual. A few simple precautions can help prevent food borne illness and ensure a happy holiday. Here are some tips to keep in mind.
- Start by buying clean eggs with uncracked shells before the “Sell-By” or expiration date on the carton. Choose Grade A or AA eggs that are refrigerated. Look at the eggs to make sure they are clean and unbroken. There is no need to wash the eggs at home – commercial producers carefully wash and sanitize the eggs prior to putting in the carton.
- Discard cracked eggs. Bacteria can enter through cracks and contaminate the egg inside.
- If you plan to eat the eggs you decorate, be sure to use only food grade dye.
- Although it is best not to eat eggs used in an outdoor egg hunt, if you do, the total time for hiding and hunting eggs should be no more than two hours. Eggs found hours later or the next day should NOT be eaten!
- If you are not going to eat the decorated eggs, they should still be hard boiled. Raw eggs can crack more easily and pose a risk, especially to children who tend to put their fingers in their mouths.
- Keep hard-cooked eggs chilled in the refrigerator until just before the hunt. Hard cooked eggs should be consumed within 5 days of hard boiling.
- Don’t hide eggs where they may come into contact with lawn chemicals, pets, wild animals, insects, birds and other bacteria sources.
- Always wash your hands with warm water and soap before and after handling raw eggs. To avoid cross-contamination, wash forks, knives, spoons and all counters and other surfaces that touch the eggs with hot water and soap.
- Never eat raw eggs. This includes “health-food” milk shakes with raw eggs, Caesar salad, Hollandaise sauce, and any other foods like homemade mayonnaise, ice cream, or eggnog made from recipes in which the raw egg ingredients are not cooked.
For more information on food safety and regulations, contact MDA’s Food Quality Assurance Program at 410-841-5769.