Easter is the most sacred day on the Christian calendar and there will surely be lots of celebrations. As a young child, I looked forward to getting a new dress, a shiny pair of patent leather shoes and an Easter bonnet. I also looked forward to the annual Easter egg hunt. I loved looking for the beautifully colored eggs. I would eat one or two but mostly I kept them on display in my bedroom. I don't recall ever throwing away my Easter eggs but after a while, the eggs would disappear.
I’m delighted to know that children continue to enjoy the tradition of hunting for Easter eggs. There may be more safety concerns that need to be addressed but these are three that must be considered.
Food borne illness
Somewhere between my childhood days and today, boiled eggs became a potential food hazard and I became a board-certified pediatrician. As I listened to the women at my church planning the Easter egg hunt, visions of sick children came to mind. I recalled caring for a pediatric patient who’d become infected with Salmonella. It was a serious infection. The child was hospitalized for several weeks and treated with intravenous antibiotics. But that was some years ago. So I asked myself, “Do eggs still present a significant risk for foodborne illness?” Yes, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
Every year, nearly 1.2 million people to become ill because of Salmonella. Most people recover in a few days without complications but 23,000 require hospitalization. According to the CDC, Salmonella is responsible for nearly 500 deaths every year.
Salmonella is not the only bacteria that causes food poisoning. But it is the most likely cause of foodborne illness associated with eating eggs. Children and older adults are mostly likely to develop serious illness if infected with Salmonella.
What is Salmonella?
Salmonella is a family of bacteria commonly found in the intestines of animals, reptiles, and birds.
Salmonella is widely found in nature. Salmonella can be found in contaminated water, inside the intestines of dogs, cats, horses, pigs, chickens and cows. Dogs, cats, and horses commonly spread Salmonella to humans.[i] Salmonella occurs in the droppings of ducks, geese, and turkeys. Reptiles, such as turtles, frogs, toads, snakes, geckos, and salamanders carry Salmonella. Even some insects carry Salmonella. In addition to raw food and contaminated water, Salmonella outbreaks have been linked to pets.
The two most common types of Salmonella associated with human illness are S. Enteritidis and S. Typhimurium. These bacteria can cause salmonellosis or what is commonly referred to as food poisoning.
Becoming infected with Salmonella from store bought pasteurized eggs is unlikely. However, improper handling of eggs could put some children and older adults at risk. According to the CDC, eggs can become contaminated with Salmonella before the shell is formed. The egg may appear perfectly normal on the inside and on the outside but contain Salmonella. If the inside of the egg is not infected with Salmonella, the egg could still pose a risk because the shell of the egg could be contaminated by Salmonella. The outside of the egg can become contaminated when the hen lays the egg, from poultry feed or bedding in the birds living quarters.[ii]
Tips for Buying Eggs
Here are some tips for reducing the likelihood of purchasing contaminated eggs:[iii]
· Purchase pasteurized eggs. Pasteurization kills some bacteria.
· If purchasing directly from the farm, know your farm. Some farms are cleaner than others. Some farmers are more conscientious about their products.
· Eggs should be stored under refrigeration. Even eggs purchased at a farmers’ market should be under refrigeration.
· Before purchasing, check eggs for leaks and cracks. Open the cartoon and look for obvious signs like egg yolk on the shell. Take your finger and try to move each egg. Eggs that don't move easily may have leaks or cracks. If you find damaged eggs, select another cartoon of eggs.
· Throw away cracked eggs. If the shell is cracked, the egg could be contaminated not only with Salmonella but with other types of bacteria.
· Store eggs in the original carton, separate from other foods and in the coldest part of the refrigerator.
· Keep eggs refrigerated at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or colder. This is most likely the back of your refrigerator. Do not store eggs in the refrigerator door because this area may not be cool enough to keep bacteria from multiplying.[iv]
· Wash eggs before handling
· Before and after handling eggs, use hot soapy water to wash hands for a minimum of 20 seconds. Also, wash counter tops and utensils that will come into contact with eggs.[v]
Making Hard-Boiled for Eggs
Girlfriend, I know you know how to boil an egg. This section is not for you. It’s for all my other sisters (and maybe a few brothers) who are just like me. We either under-cook our eggs and have soft yolks or we cook the egg so long that the shell cracks.
There are three ways to cook an egg in the shell:
1. Use an egg cooker
2. In a microwave
3. In a pot of boiling water.
To keep it simple, I selected “Making Hard-Boiled Eggs in a Pot of Boiling Water”.
Classic Method for Making Hard-Boiled Eggs
Step 1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
Step 2. Use a large spoon and carefully place the eggs into the boiling water.
Step 3. Turn the heat off, cover the pot and let the egg cook for 9-15 minutes. The size of the eggs determine the cooking time.
· Medium eggs should be cooked for 9 minutes
· Large eggs should be cooked for 12 minutes
· Extra-large eggs should be cooked for 13 (AEB)-15(GH) minutes
Step 4. After the eggs are cooked, drain the water immediately.
Step 5. Rinse the eggs under cold running water until you can touch the eggs without burning your hands.
Step 6. Refrigerate eggs immediately until you are ready to make Easter eggs.
Eggs should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit. The yolk and white should be firm. If the yolk turns green or grey, you left the eggs in the water too long.
We found this method unrealistic for a busy person trying to make more than a few hard-boiled eggs. This is an excellent method for making hard-boiled eggs for personal use. With this method, and by extending the time from 13-15 minutes to 18 minutes, our eggs had a solid yolk and no green or grayish coloring on the outside of the yolk. At the recommended time of 13-15 minutes for large eggs, the yolks of our eggs were still soft.
Martha Stewart’s Hard-Boiled Eggs
These instructions are for the method of making hard-boiled eggs that I’m most familiar with, in a pot of boiling water.
1. Place eggs in a large saucepan.
2. Cover them with cool water by 1 inch.
3. Slowly bring water to a boil.
4. When the water starts to boil, cover the pot and remove from the pot from the heat.
5. Let the eggs sit in the covered pot of hot water for 12 minutes
6. Cool eggs under running water[ix]
After cooking, promptly refrigerate the eggs. Do not keep eggs at room temperature longer than 2 hours. If the room temperature is 90°F or hotter, limit the time eggs are outside of refrigeration to 1 hour or less.
Transporting Hard-Boiled Eggs
Keep eggs cold. Pack hard-boiled eggs inside an insulated cooler with enough ice to keep the cooler cold. You can also surround to cooler with frozen freezer packs, which you can buy at a dollar store.
Transport the cooler inside an air-conditioned car and not in the trunk.[x] Keep the lid to the cooler closed during transport. Once you arrive at your destination, if it is not possible to place eggs inside a refrigerator, keep the cooler in the shade and the lid closed.
What is the 2- Hour Rule?
If food is not stored properly, bacteria can quickly multiply. Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella, Enteritidis, Escherichia coli O157: H7 (E.coli) and Campylobacter can double in number in as little as 20 minutes. Use the 2-hour rule to reduce the risk of food poisoning.
The 2-hour rule is the total time food can be safely kept at room temperature.
Here is an example of the 2-hour rule:
For example, the Easter eggs are taken out of the refrigerator at 8:00 a.m. It takes 30 minutes to travel to the site where the Easter egg hunt will take place. It takes 30 minutes to hide the eggs. Eggs must be found no later than 10:00 a.m.[xi] At 10 a.m., the eggs should be placed under refrigeration or eaten. Eggs not eaten can be used as decoration or thrown away.[xii] The maximum total time that eggs should be without refrigeration is 2 hours. If you have questions about the 2-hour rule, call the Meat and Poultry Hotline toll-free at 1-888-674-6854.
Hiding Hard-Boiled Eggs
Keep eggs refrigerated until it is time to hide them. Keeping the 2 hour rule in mind, hide eggs where they can be easily found, especially for young children.
Learn more about planning Easter egg hunts in my book “Happy fun Safer Easter Egg Hunts and delicious recipes for eggs. Plus I share how I lost 2.7 lbs. in 3 days eating hard-boiled eggs! The book is available on Amazon: www.bit.ly/DrPHSBooks . Profits are donated to the International Association of Ministers’ Wives and Ministers’ Widows.