Improperly cooked eggs can raise the danger of salmonella poisoning. What is salmonella, why is it found in eggs, and how can you minimize the risks?
Let's start with salmonella. Salmonella is a bacteria that is naturally found in a variety of places. Estimates are that there are over 100,000 cases of salmonella infections every year in the US alone, but that most are discounted as a simple cold and not reported. Most people simply get a fever, some diarrhea, and light cramps, which are gone within a week. Of course for children, the elderly, and others with weakened systems, their bodies can have a harder time recovering.
Pretty much any farm can have salmonella on it, as it's a natural bacteria. It is primarily found in meat products, but since farms often have chickens, cows, and vegetables they're growing, cross-contamination easily occurs. It's part of why it's important to wash veggies before eating them.
Salmonella and Eggs
So because salmonella can naturally be found in chickens, it can also be found in the eggs they lay. Yes, some salmonella might get onto the outside of the shell because the egg is in a chicken coop. However, studies have also shown that a percentage of chickens are living with salmonella bacteria in them, and that bacteria therefore gets into the eggs they lay. So simply washing an egg's shell can't make it salmonella-free.
Salmonella survives freezing. The way to kill the salmonella bacteria is to heat it to 167F for ten minutes. In terms of cooking eggs, you want to cook them so they are no longer runny. A runny yolk is still raw, so any salmonella bacteria in that part would still be active.
It's also wise not to eat things that have raw egg in them, like chocolate chip cookie dough :). Yes, I know, I ate it by the pound when I was growing up. Who knows if a few of those "flus" I got over the years were not the end result of that passion.
Of course one could also say that a healthy adult easily survives a few days of fever-and-diarrhea. If someone adores runny-yolk eggs they might simply make sure they stay healthy enough to last through a bout of salmonella poisoning every ten years or so. To them it could be a fair enough trade-off.
Apparently 30 people die each year in the US from salmonella poisoning. To put that into perspective, that's just one more than the number of lightning deaths in the US in 2010. So just as you take precautions not to stand holding a metal rod in the middle of a thunderstorm, but you probably don't hide in your basement either, it's good to take reasonable precautions in avoiding salmonella without converting to a sunshine-and-air diet.
Post in our forum if you have comments or suggestions on avoiding salmonella!