If a holly jolly holiday includes a glass of homemade eggnog, food safety scientist Karen Blakeslee recommends paying extra attention to the eggs used while preparing the classic holiday drink.
“Instead of using raw eggs, use pasteurized eggs,” said Blakeslee, who is also coordinator of K-State’s Rapid Response Center for food science. “They have been commercially pasteurized with a low temperature heat treatment that destroys Salmonella without changing the physical and nutritional properties of the eggs.”
Blakeslee said Salmonella is the bacteria most often associated with foodborne illness outbreaks from raw eggs. E. coli has also been linked to eggnog made with raw eggs.
Salmonella is responsible for 1.35 million infections, 26,500 hospitalizations and 420 deaths per year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control.
Pasteurized eggs cost slightly more than standard eggs, but Blakeslee said they are worth the price to prevent foodborne illness. “Egg substitutes are also an option,” she said.
Another – even safer – method is to make a cooked egg base. The steps, according to Blakeslee, include:
- Combine eggs and half the milk in your recipe. Sugar may also be added.
- Cook the mixture to 160 degrees Fahrehneit, stirring constantly. Use a double boiler to prevent scorching.
- After cooking, pour the mixture into a bowl and place in the refrigerator to chill.
- Add remaining ingredients and enjoy.
Safe preparation is the key to reducing the risk of illness. “The alcohol (contained in some eggnog recipes) will not kill bacteria,” Blakeslee said.
“If buying prepared eggnog, read the label to be sure it has been pasteurized,” she added. “Commercial eggnog can stored in the refrigerator for 3-5 days, and frozen for up to six months. Homemade eggnog can be refrigerated for 2-4 days, but it is not recommended to freeze.”
The recommended refrigeration and freezing times for many foods are published online by Foodsafety.gov, a U.S. government website.
“And always remember to wash your hands before and after handling raw eggs, as with any food preparation,” Blakeslee said.