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How to Pasteurize Eggs at Home

The more we learn about food safety, the higher our standards become - and, of course, the more things we find to worry about. Take raw eggs, for example. Folks used to think nothing of breaking a raw egg into their morning milkshake for extra vitamins and protein. Raw cookie dough was only a slightly guilty pleasure - like licking the bowl of cake batter. No one thought anything about the safety or lack thereof in Hollandaise or Bearnaise sauce, or homemade mayonnaise. Poached and fried eggs with runny yolks were simply a matter of preference - not a risky choice. Recipes galore call for beaten egg whites - and even whole eggs - that are never cooked. But then we found out about salmonella bacteria - and how dangerous it can be - and even the hardiest among us started to worry.

For the very young, the elderly, pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems, raw eggs can be quite dangerous. Even though the FDA says that only about one egg in 20,000 contains salmonella bacteria - the risk is not worth taking if you are among these groups of people - or if you are cooking for them. There is a company that produces pasteurized eggs in the shell - a fabulous solution, because the egg remains as viable as a completely uncooked egg in a recipe - but those pasteurized eggs can be very difficult to find consistently.

Now, a solution has come to our attention. It is possible to pasteurize eggs at home - and easily, too! Pasteurization is simply a process of heating a food to a specific temperature for a specific amount of time - designed to kill specific bacteria. It is known that salmonella bacteria are killed at temperatures of 140 degrees in about 3 1/2 minutes (or a higher temperature in less time). If a room temperature egg is held in a bowl of warm water - say, 142 degrees to be safe - for 3 1/2 minutes, the bacteria will be killed. It takes 5 minutes for extra large or jumbo eggs.

Place the room temperature eggs in a colander, and lower them into a pan or bowl of 142-degree water. Use an instant-read thermometer to be sure of the water temperature, and leave the thermometer in the water, to be sure that the temoerature is maintained. For medium or large eggs, leave them in the water for 3 1/2 minutes; for extra large or jumbo eggs, allow 5 minutes. Then remove the eggs, dry them, and refrigerate them, in a tightly-covered container.

Eggs begin to cook at about 160 degrees, and will be "scrambled eggs" at 180 - but if the 142 degree temperature is maintained, the result is a safe egg that will act like a raw egg in recipes.

Our listener, Andie, pasteurizes her eggs as soon as she brings them home from the market - a good way to avoid having to mark them, or creating confusion about which have been pasteurized and which have not.


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This page was updated July 3, 2006