Nearly half a billion eggs have been recalled due to an outbreak of salmonella. Even though it is a small number compared to the total number of eggs sold and consumed in the United States, it takes only one bad egg to disturb your family’s peace! Eggs are an excellent source of complete protein. And if your child enjoys them, there is no need to panic even though the screaming headlines in the media may prompt you to completely bypass the egg aisle at the store. Here are 7 ways to ensure your child’s health and safety despite this nationwide food safety issue.
Be informed: Keep an eye on the brands and manufacturing plant numbers affected by the salmonella recall. So far, it is limited to certain farms in Iowa, but eggs produced there are distributed and sold nationwide, If you live in one of the affected states where these eggs are sold, you have to be extra vigilant so you don’t end up bringing contaminated eggs home. Monitor credible websites like the CDC and Egg Safety Center (see links below) for updates.
Look carefully before buying: Every egg carton has number beginning with the letter P, usually stamped on the short side. This is not to be confused with the expiration date, or in some cases, best if used before date. The P number is mandatory, while the others are voluntary. An example of a P number is shown below:
The 4 numbers immediately after the letter P indicate the plant where the eggs were produced. The Julian date shows the date they were packaged. Julian date represents the consecutive days of the year with 001 for January 1 and 365 for December 31. In the above example, P-1946 is the plant number and 223 is Aug 11 in a non leap year like 2010.
According to the recall list, P numbers 1026, 1413, 1946 with Julian dates 136 to 225 are affected. Keep in mind that both the P number and the Julian date should match to be sure that the eggs in the carton are affected.
Even if the egg carton you are about to buy is not included in the recall list, pay attention to how the eggs are stored. They should be kept refrigerated and the egg shells should be clean and uncracked. Compare the Julian date to the current date to get an idea about how long they have been out since they were packed at the plant. Although eggs are considered safe even after 4-5 weeks from the Julian date if kept refrigerated, it is better to buy within 1-2 weeks after they were packed to make sure they are fresh.
Look for the USDA grade shield on the carton which means the eggs were tested to meet established quality standards.
Ask questions when eating out: Eggs are used in many different dishes, not just what you might order at breakfast. And even if the restaurant makes a fresh dish, they may use many ingredients processed with eggs. Before you order your favorite omelet, or a fried egg with the sunny side up, ask questions to make sure they are using fresh, uncontaminated eggs. Do they use shell eggs or liquid egg mix? Liquid egg mix must be pasteurized. Pay attention to the overall hygiene of the cooking environment. Salmonella contamination can come not just from eggs but from other foods too.
Avoid eating raw eggs: It does not take long for bacteria to grow inside the egg because of their high nutrient density. Even 1-2 h at room temperature or under unrefrigerated conditions may be enough for bacteria to grow and multiply inside the egg. It is often very hard to tell just by looking at the raw egg yolk or white if it is contaminated by bacteria. As a result, eating raw eggs carries a higher risk of getting sick. It is better to cook them well and keep prepared dishes refrigerated until they are served.
Use safe cooking practices: Use common sense and good hygiene as you cook eggs and other foods. Wash hands, sanitized work surfaces and counter tops, use clean cutting boards, knives and utensils. Cook at a high enough temperature and cook completely. In case of eggs, both the yolk and white should be firm when properly cooked.
Limit processed egg products: Eggs and egg products are used in a lot of processed foods. The good news is that there are strict quality standards and pasteurization requirements before egg products can be used. However, the more processed a food is, the less information and control you have about its ingredients. In general, it is better to use fresh, raw and high quality ingredients to prepare your food. This is good not only for your health and nutrition but also to minimize the risk of food based sickness. Whenever possible, limit the consumption of processed foods.
Watch out for early signs of illness: Young children are at a higher risk of getting sick from contaminated eggs. Watch out for symptoms like fever, abdominal cramps and diarrhea within 12 to 72 hours of eating contaminated foods. Vomiting, chills, headache and muscle pains may also occur. Seek immediate medical attention to ensure timely treatment before it gets out of control. Serious sickness and even death can occur.
Staying alert, buying smart and using safe cooking techniques will help you keep your family safe during the current and future food safety crisis. Stay safe and healthy!
Egg Safety Center Recall List