How to Handle Eggs Safely to Avoid Foodborne Illness

Handle raw eggs properly to avoid salmonella.
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Raw eggs sometimes carry bacteria that can cause a nasty digestive tract infection called salmonellosis. Symptoms include fever, diarrhea and abdominal cramps and can appear anywhere from 12 hours to three days after eating contaminated eggs.

Most people recover without any problems, but infants, the elderly and those with impaired immune systems may become very sick because the infection can spread from the digestive tract to the bloodstream and may even cause death.

Egg Safety Begins at the Grocery Store

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires cartons of raw, untreated eggs to carry the following statement:

Safe Handling Instructions: To prevent illness from bacteria: keep eggs refrigerated, cook eggs until yolks are firm, and cook foods containing eggs thoroughly.

Choose raw eggs that are refrigerated, never buy eggs that are being sold at roadside stands or farmers markets unless they are being sold in refrigerated cases at a temperature below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

It's a good idea to check open the cartoon and take a look the eggs to make sure they're not cracked, but you can't tell which eggs are contaminated with salmonella by looking at or smelling them, so you need to treat all raw eggs as potential carriers and follow proper food safety practices.  

You may be able to buy eggs that have been pasteurized, a process which kills the salmonella and makes the eggs safe to handle, even though they're not cooked.

Pasteurized eggs can be fresh, liquefied, dried or frozen. Pasteurized eggs are a must if your recipes call for raw or undercooked eggs as part of the final product. If you can't buy pasteurized eggs, you can pasteurize them at home.

Egg Safety Continues at Home

Store raw eggs in your refrigerator until you need them.

Raw eggs can be stored safely in the refrigerator for up to three weeks.  Frozen eggs and egg products can be kept at 0 degrees Fahrenheit for up to one year. 

When it's time to cook them, be sure all cooking surfaces, equipment, utensils -- and your hand -- are clean. Additional tips:

  • Thaw any frozen egg products safely in the refrigerator, not at room temperature.
  • Keep raw eggs away from cooked or ready-to-serve foods to prevent cross-contamination.
  • Don't lick spoons or eat raw dough or batter made with raw unpasteurized eggs.
  • Cook eggs until both whites and yolks are firm.
  • Bake quiches, casseroles and other egg dishes to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit. 

After your eggs are cooked, you need to follow typical food safety procedures and either keep them hot until served (above 140 degrees Fahrenheit) or stored in cold temperatures (below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. After your meal is finished, refrigerate cooked eggs and egg dish leftovers right away. They can be kept refrigerated safely for three or four days.

If you're packing a lunch with an egg salad sandwich or hard boiled eggs, you'll need to include freezer packs or keep your lunch refrigerated until it's time to eat.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Salmonella."

The United States Food and Drug Administration. "Egg Safety: What You Need to Know."

The United States Food and Drug Administration. "Food Safety for Moms-to-Be: Safe Eats - Dairy and Eggs."

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