In the past people used the dyed Easter eggs for days after Easter. The eggs were left at room temperature for long period, and the cracked eggs were still eaten. With the increased problem and /or awareness of the food borne illness issues, these practices are certainly not recommended.
There is an increased problem with the contamination of the eggs with Salmonella inside the eggs, so just making sure that the eggs are not cracked is no longer enough to insure that the eggs are free of salmonella. Heating the eggs to 160 F. does destroy the salmonella, but there are other bacteria that produce poisons that will not be destroyed by heat. Eggs are very nutritious for bacteria as well as humans. The following are suggestions from the USDA for purchasing and handling eggs.
- DO NOT purchase eggs that are not refrigerated. Bacteria can grow quickly if stored at room temperature.
- At the store choose Grade A or AA eggs with clean, uncracked shell.
- Store eggs in the coldest part of the refrigerator in the original grocery carton. Do not store the eggs on the door of the refrigerator.
- Do not wash eggs that were purchased from the grocery store before storage.
- If eggs get cracked on the way home from the store or while at home, break the shell eggs into a clean container, cover tightly, refrigerate and use within two days.
- Use refrigerated raw eggs within three to five weeks. Hard cooked eggs can be kept in the refrigerator for up to one week. Use refrigerated egg dishes within four days.
- Avoid eating raw or undercooked eggs, or foods that contain them. Cook eggs or egg dishes to 160 F.
- Do not freeze raw or hard cooked eggs in the shell. Raw egg yolks, egg whites, or blended eggs can be frozen for up to a year.
- Avoid keeping eggs out of the refrigerator for more than two hours.
- Wash hands, utensils, equipment and work areas with warm, soapy water before and after contact with eggs and egg-rich foods.
As if that isn’t enough precaution, there is more. From the USDA/FDA Foodbourne Illness Education Center came another set of guidelines for cooking hard cooked eggs. When eggs are cooled in water after being cooked, the eggs pull cool water through the pores of the shell. If the water contains bacteria, the bacteria are pulled into the shell, and grow quickly on this nutritious food source. The cooling water can be contaminated by bacteria on peoples hands, particularly staph bacteria. Suggestions to eliminate this problem are:
- Add eight ounces of vinegar to every two quarts of boiling water in which the eggs are cooked. The acid in the vinegar makes it more difficult for the bacteria to survive.
- DO NOT cool the eggs in water. Remove the eggs immediately after cooking and cool on racks in the refrigerator.
If eggs are to be dyed, the dye should be food grade, and the water and containers used should be free of bacteria, or there is still a chance to contaminate the eggs. The hard cooked eggs should not be at room temperature for more than two hour if they are to be eaten.
Easter egg hunts are fun for the children. It is safest to use eggs that are not intended to be eaten. Plastic eggs work great since no one would be tempted to consume one. Hiding eggs outside just increases the chance for cracking and microorganism contamination. Have a safe and enjoyable holiday.