Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Egg recall: A blast from the past

What's wrong with that picture? Well, the egg looks moist and delicious with a yolk that is runny and perfect for dipping in a corner of buttered toast.
Food editors who swap messages on a list serve were chattering Monday about the Food & Drug Administration's latest announcement in the massive shell-egg recall: Cook your eggs until they are hard and the yolks are dry. For those of us who were around in the 1990s, that's a return to business as usual.
I had the luck to start covering food in the summer of 1990, when the first cases of salmonella contamination in eggs erupted just a few weeks after I was assigned to the beat. I had barely figured out how to spell "FDA" and I was trying to explain to people how to make custard-based ice cream without raw eggs, and what to do with their Hollandaise and mayonnaise recipes. In the 20 years since then, I've learned to type this one by rote: "Uncooked eggs can be dangerous for infants, children, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems."
Truthfully, though, undercooked eggs didn't go away. Because they taste good. The American Egg Board issued a statement this morning with this sentence: "Thoroughly cooked eggs are thoroughly safe eggs." Yes, they are. Unfortunately, they are also throughly tasteless eggs, with yolks that taste like library paste and whites that chew like rubber.
Over the intervening years since the original egg warnings, most of us found ways to adapt. We either did without dishes made with undercooked eggs, or we found ways to minimize the risk. For myself, I started buying eggs from farmers who produce them in small batches, because there is less risk of contamination. Unfortunately, I also had to get used to paying $5 for a dozen eggs. Yes, they're great eggs, with tall, dark-yellow yolks, but they're not exactly a cheap indulgence.
Yes, we still can get cheap eggs. Unfortunately, that means coming to terms with eggs that are
produced on large-farm operations, where contamination spreads quickly throughout the food system. And means recognizing that those eggs need to be cooked more thoroughly.
Don't you think 20 years should have been enough time to come up with a system that's better than telling us the solution to egg contamination is in how we're cooking, not in how we're raising chickens?


Anonymous said...

Alton Brown used to brag about using pasteurized eggs. I've never seen any, myself - can you help explain?

Kathleen Purvis said...

There are a couple of companies that make pasteurized shell eggs. Davidson's is probably the best known. The eggs act almost the same as unpasteurized eggs, but it takes longer to beat the egg whites and they may not beat as high as unpasteurized. They also cost a bit more, although I haven't checked the price lately. One other thing to bear in mind: The egg is pasteurized in the shell so it is safe when it gets to you. But once you crack the shell, the egg is just as susceptible to contamination as any other food product in your kitchen.

Lula Lemon said...

I get mine for $3 from a very nice lady named Laura. It's a small price to pay to avoid salmonella. I may never buy supermarket eggs again.

Anonymous said...

I have been buying pasteurized eggs, the Davidson's safest choice, for my grandma the past couple years. She love them and I can't tell a difference. I have used them personally for recipes that need raw eggs but now I'm just buying my eggs pasteurized. I like to eat sunny side up eggs for breakfast so I don't see the point in risking salmonella. Also, backyard hens and organic hens may live in better environments but they can still have bacteria such as salmonella because it is a natural organism.

Julie @ Willow Bird Baking said...

So Kathleen, just to be clear, you aren't saying that local eggs bypass the salmonella threat altogether, but just that they aren't mass-produced and so aren't part of the widespread contamination that causes things like mass recalls?

To be honest, I know I should be paying closer attention to the recall, but I've been willfully ignoring it. Eek. I love runny yolks, too. I buy FarmHouse cage free eggs . . . and I'm honestly clueless as to how I'd find out if they're part of the recall.

Kathleen Purvis said...

No, Julie, I don't mean to imply local birds are immune to diseases. It's just that when you raise animals in crowded conditions, they are more likely to pass illnesses among themselves. I also was addressing the issue of large, centralized food production systems. When a problem starts, it spreads quickly. That's not just in eggs -- we've seen it in beef, spinach, salsa, you name it.