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Egg Safety: Cholesterol and Pasteurization

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My journey into egg safety and ultimately pasteurized eggs started, of course, with a cupcake. It was time to make my “Better Than Sex Chocolate Cupcakes“, and as part of the cupcakes I wanted a chocolate mousse filling. It had to be a real chocolate mousse made with raw eggs.

Are Eggs Bad For You?

My chocolate mousse recipe called for 8 eggs. High cholesterol, here we come! Or not!
For the low down on eggs, I turned to the book Last Chance to Eat by Gina Mallet. I admit I didn’t read the whole book, but I can strongly recommend the chapter on eggs entitled “The Imperilled Egg”.
Gina covers the whole history of egg consumption. Particularly fascinating was her section on eggs and cholesterol. It was like an episode of Myth Busters, but in book format.
In short, Gina says: There is no link between egg consumption and high cholesterol.
  1. In the early 1970’s, the American Heart Association declared the egg a threat to health. This was because it contained 278 milligrams of cholesterol and food scientists had just announced that people shouldn’t have more than 300 milligrams of cholesterol a day.
  2. The 300 milligram per day standard was set because scientists were concerned about the connection between high cholesterol and heart disease and thought they could help people by setting a safe limit. They arbitrarily decided the safe limit should be half of what the average person ate (580 milligrams) so they decided on 300.
  3. It was later determined that cholesterol in humans is mostly created by the way we process food, not by eating foods that contain cholesterol (like eggs).
  4. Over the next 25 years, no study was done that linked dietary cholesterol and heart disease.
  5. In 1999, the Harvard School of Public Health conducted a study funded by the National Institute of Health that showed no heart health hazard connected to egg eating. This prompted the American Heart Association to say that four eggs a week would be fine.
  6. The American Heart Association later upped that number to an egg a day.

Read the chapter. I couldn’t do it justice without completely plagiarizing. FYI: Wikipedia has some of the same information in case you were wondering if this was just one person’s crazy egg propaganda.

Will Raw Eggs Give You Salmonella?

Gina points out that salmonella was the next attack on eggs after cholesterol. If you watch the video on the safeeggs website, you would think that we were all going to die from salmonella. Last Chance to Eat paints a very different picture.

Salmonella produces a mild form of typhoid fever in humans. Most people don’t notice it, but it can be fatal in susceptible people. My dad actually had salmonella years ago (I’m not sure if it was from eggs) and he was extremely sick. He got better quickly and all was well. However, it is definitely something I want to avoid.

According to Last Chance to Eat, salmonella in eggs is correlated with bad living conditions for the hens. Basically, salmonella can be contracted in an egg if it gets chicken poo on it when things aren’t clean. In response to public concerns, the egg industry worked on improving the unsanitary conditions. Last Chance to Eat says that your chances of getting salmonella from an egg are now only 1 in 20,000. Wikipedia says it’s 1 in 30,000. Note that these numbers vary outside of the US.

Pasteurized Eggs

One way to make sure that you don’t get sick from eggs is to use pasteurized eggs. These eggs are not available everywhere, however they are available in St. Louis at Dierbergs from safeeggs. They are the ones marked with the P in the photo to the left. Last Chance to Eat describes the process: “A computerized conveyor belt passes the eggs through successive baths of water, heated from 144 degrees to 162 degrees in order to destroy any pathogens.”

Gina goes on to say that pasteurization destroys the taste of the egg. Others agree. The San Fransisco Chronicle has a detailed article where the author does a series of tests to compare pasteurized vs. non-pasteurized eggs in a variety of ways. The pasteurized egg lost every test.

I decided to try my own test.

Pasteurized vs Non-Pasteurized Scrambled Eggs in a Blind Taste Test

First, I cracked both eggs. This part was not done blinded. They appeared very similar, but the pasteurized egg had cloudier egg whites. Look closely at the photo on the left. The back egg has not been pasteurized.

Then, my husband scrambled them both up. I bake, he scrambles.

I closed my eyes and he randomly fed me some of each cooked egg. I was hard-pressed to pick which one I liked better. However, I chose the non-pasteurized egg, as did all the other tasters. Groom 2.0 said he couldn’t tell the difference. The difference was very minimal, but the non-tampered-with egg had a richer flavor.

Which Type of Egg Did I Use in the Mousse?

I had to go with the pasteurized egg in my chocolate mousse. Even knowing how slim the chances are of getting salmonella, I didn’t want to risk it. What if Bride and Groom 2.0 pick the cupcake with the mousse for the wedding? I wouldn’t want their wedding to be ruined by a honeymoon salmonella disaster.

Call me chicken.

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17 comments on “Egg Safety: Cholesterol and Pasteurization”

  1. dagnabbit! where is my moussssssssssssssssssssssse?
    Oh yeah, uhm thanks for edumacating me and stuff but uhm, canIhazMoossnowplz?

  2. Stefsays:

    TW – Patience. :) The mousse is coming soon and then the cupcakes. Learning first, then dessert.

  3. Anonymoussays:

    When you are baking the cake in affect you are pasteurizing the eggs yourself. To pasteurize recipes containing eggs, 160 degrees must be reached or 140 degrees reached and held for 3 minutes. Don’t waste money on pasteurized eggs in recipes thatyou are baking. Also the allegations that cage free or organic eggs are safer is not proven and just ancedotal. There aren’t research projects that scientifically can prove that. Chicken houses are as clean as something related to chickens can be; remember they are constantly making messes as birds do. Keep eating eggs. they are a great source of protein and a great baking product. They can stand up to heat unlike other products.

  4. Stefsays:

    Anonymous – Thanks for chiming in. I bought my pasteurized eggs for a mousse that was not going to be baked. Typically, I not use them in a baked cupcake. Although, I know many people who are scared to eat raw cake batter. They may feel safer using pasteurized eggs and rekindle their mixing spoon love affair.

  5. Karensays:

    That was very eye opening. It confirmed a lot of what I had been hearing about eggs.

  6. Thanks for posting this! I made hot and sour soup for dinner last night and was a little paranoid about the egg that wasn’t fully cooked. I eat it in restaurants all the time without worrying, but when you make it yourself and actually see the raw egg, it feels different lol I think I can take a 1 in 20 or 30k chance without feeling like I’m living too dangerously.
    (I deleted my original comment because I had the figures wrong)

  7. Stefsays:

    Karen – No prob. I was so fascinated with the subject. I felt like I was back in grade school writing a book report only it was more fun.

    Kristina – Thanks for posting and correcting. :) Glad I helped you feel better about your soup. I’ve never made hot and sour soup. Bet it was yummy!

  8. CBsays:

    Thanks for the eggcellent report! (sorry I couldn’t help myself!) It was quite informative. Not sure I’d say that it convinced me to dump my non-pasteurize eggs but its definitely “food” for thought. (Am I on a roll or what?? LOL)

  9. Joelsays:

    My mom made mini-baked-alaska for my sister’s college graduation last summer. Amy and I spent the next week counting floor tiles in our bathroom. I vote for death to germs!

  10. Stefsays:

    CB – Hah! You “crack” me up.

    Joel – Ugh! How many tiles were there?

  11. cybelesays:

    Great article. Eggs really don’t get enough credit.

    I also learned years ago that the lecithin in the egg white mitigates the cholesterol content in the yolk. Still, in my house when we make a fritatta or omelet we leave out one yolk for every four eggs (just to reduce the calories/fat).

  12. Stefsays:

    Cybele – Intersting fact. I hadn’t heard that. Thanks!

  13. Anonymoussays:

    One thing to consider about egg safety is that salmonella is more of a danger in restaurants.

    Let’s say you have a dozen eggs in your fridge and one is definitely contaminated and for 12 days you scramble an egg for breakfast.

    Let’s say on one of those days you severely undercook your scramble. You have a 1/12 chance of eating a contaminated scramble.

    Let’s say a restaurant took that dozen eggs, cracked them into a container, mixed them all up, and used a ladle to dish out eggs for scrambling. Or made a big batch of french toast…

    If undercooked, you now have a 100% chance of being exposed.

  14. Stevesays:

    The below is from the USDA web site and points out that Salmonella from the shell of the egg is eliminated during processing for any USDA graded egg (and every carton I’ve ever seen in a grocery store is “Grade A”), although as it points out there are other risks.

    How does Salmonella infect eggs?
    Bacteria can be on the outside of a shell egg. That’s because the egg exits the hen’s body through the same passageway as feces is excreted. That’s why eggs are required to be washed at the processing plant. All USDA graded eggs and most large volume processors follow the washing step with a sanitizing rinse at the processing plant. It is also possible for eggs to become infected by Salmonella Enteritidis fecal contamination through the pores of the shells after they’re laid. SE also can be inside an uncracked, whole egg. Contamination of eggs may be due to bacteria within the hen’s reproductive tract before the shell forms around the yolk and white. SE doesn’t make the hen sick.

  15. Anonymoussays:

    My neighbor has fresh farm eggs that I have access to. In baking would you choose farm fresh over store bought?

  16. Stefsays:

    Anon – Lucky you! I would always choose farm fresh eggs.

  17. Anonymoussays:

    Given that the CDC places the overall risk of “food poisoning” in the US at 1:6, 1:25,000 seems hardly worth mentioning.

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