Is Raw Cookie Dough Really That Risky?
Learn the truth about eating raw eggs and get smart ways to protect yourself from salmonella
‘Tis the season for cookie baking and homemade eggnog. But before sneaking a finger swipe of raw cookie dough or a cup of creamy cheer, consider that you might wind up regretting it.
Raw or undercooked eggs can carry salmonella, a nasty bacteria that makes its home in the intestines of humans and animals. Eggs become infected when hens contract the bug from infected feed, another hen, rodents, birds or flies. A hatched egg might be salmonella-free on the inside, but its shell can become contaminated from bacteria in its environment.
Hens infected with salmonella show no symptoms, so farmers can’t tell which ones are bacteria-free. All eggs — including organic and cage-free — are at risk for salmonella contamination.
The risk of a single egg being contaminated with salmonella is extremely low: Only about 1 in 20,000 eggs has the bacteria. But if you get sick, you won’t care much about the statistics.
Symptoms of salmonella poisoning typically kick in within 6 to 72 hours and include nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, fever, chills and headache. Healthy people usually recover within 5 to 7 days, but elderly people, infants, young children and anyone with a compromised immune symptom, including pregnant women, may fare worse. They’re at increased risk of becoming severely ill. So are people going through chemotherapy.
Keep yourself safe from salmonella this season with these tips.
Use heat to kill bacteria
Cooking an egg to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F creates enough heat to destroy any salmonella. Your average batch of chocolate chip cookies baked at 375 degrees F for 9 to 11 minutes is going to be free and clear of salmonella. If you follow the recommended times and cooking temps for most cookies, any that are still mushy in the middle afterward are the result of the liquid/dry ratio, not raw egg in your cookie.
In no-bake recipes that call for eggs (including eggnog), cooking the eggs to 160 degrees F (use a kitchen thermometer) will make them safe to eat. To alter the end product’s taste and texture as little as possible, before cooking, dilute the eggs with liquid, such as milk, or other ingredients, such as sugar (at least ¼ cup liquid or sugar per egg, as in custard), to prevent coagulation.
Make smart swaps
If you’re not up for all that temperature taking, you can substitute pasteurized eggs (one brand is Safest Choice) for raw eggs in a no-bake recipe. Or you can choose an egg substitute. These are more widely available, but they can change the texture and taste of your culinary creation.
Want the rich, creamy taste of eggnog without the hassle? There’s always store-bought eggnogs, which use pasteurized eggs.
Put eggs in their place
Keeping eggs in the egg holders in your refrigerator door may seem like a good idea, but it’s not. It exposes them to fluctuating temperatures, which increases the chances that any existing bacteria will multiply. The safest way to store eggs is in the container they came in. Keep them refrigerated at or below 40 degrees F (4 degrees C) at all times.
Never let your eggs sweat
If you’re the type who likes to organize all of the ingredients on the counter before you start baking, make an exception for the eggs. When eggs are left out at room temperature for extended periods, they start to “sweat” (they feel slightly damp or the shell is covered in tiny beads of water). Sweating means the conditions are ripe for any bacteria to multiply inside and outside the egg. The more salmonella an egg contains, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the more likely the egg is to make you sick.
If refrigerated eggs have been left out for two hours, trash them. And if the room is warm (which can happen with a hot oven), throw them away even sooner.
Pass on eggs with cracks
Never buy eggs with cracks. If salmonella got on the outside of the egg during any part of the farming process, it can enter the egg through the crack. If eggs crack on the way home from the store, break them into a clean container, cover it tightly, keep it refrigerated, and use the eggs within two days.