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Egg Dishes & Sauces to be Wary of

At a Restaurant

Last Updated: June 11, 2010

Published: August 19, 2008 by Michael Doom, REHS

 

I would bet that many people would be surprised to learn how many different types of egg based dishes and sauces are served with either raw eggs, or only minimally cooked eggs.  Here is a good sample of the most common of these egg based foods:

  • Raw batter, filling, or cookie dough made with raw eggs
  • Egg-fortified beverages that are not thoroughly cooked (e.g. homemade eggnog)

 

  • Caesar salad dressing

  • Béarnaise sauce

  • Hollandaise sauce

  • Aioli sauce

  • Homemade Mayonnaise

  • Homemade ice cream

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  • Mousse
  • Meringue
  • Tiramisu

 

California recently changed its state law banning restaurants from using raw unpasteurized eggs.  Many states will follow this requirement if they haven’t already.  Check with you local Environmental Health Food Inspection Program to learn more.

The law in California states that for raw shell eggs that are prepared in response to a consumer's order and for immediate service, the eggs must be heated to a minimum internal temperature of 145° F, or above for 15 seconds.  If not for immediate service, such as for those sauces and dishes noted above, raw eggs and foods containing raw eggs must be heated to a minimum internal temperature of 145° F for three minutes, or 150° F for one minute, or 158° F for < 1 second. The other option the law allows is for pasteurized eggs to be substituted for raw eggs for these sauces and dishes.

Some restaurants continue to produce their own 'homemade' raw egg based dishes and sauces even though it may very well be against the law.  If you plan on ordering any of these foods or sauces or see them on the menu, my advice is to either stay away from them or confirm with certainty with your server, manager or the cook that they are following these minimum cooking temperatures and times, or using some type of pasteurized egg product in place of raw eggs. Pasteurization is a special heating process just hot enough to kill common and sufficient numbers of microorganisms without affecting the quality of the food.  Pasteurized eggs can now be purchased in three possibly ways: fresh whole shell eggs (look at the label or stamp on the egg itself), liquid eggs and frozen eggs.

What's the danger, you may be asking?

Here is just one example of what probably occurs often in the U.S. alone regarding food poisoning resulting from the consumption of raw eggs.  (Remember also that the vast majority of food poisoning cases go unreported mainly because most people recover on their own.  So just because a restaurateur makes a claim that they have been serving this raw egg sauce or dish for x number of years without receiving any complaints of illness, just means that no one reported it or recognized it as a food borne illness and linked it to the raw eggs.)

There was an outbreak (August 2007) at a popular restaurant in Los Angeles where at least 40 people were confirmed to have contracted Salmonella which was linked to Hollandaise sauce made with undercooked, unpasteurized eggs, even though the law had already taken effect.  A reporter for the Los Angeles Times reported his painful experience with this illness in the paper.

Although the estimated percentage of eggs that are contaminated with Salmonella is small (1 of every 20,000 eggs), this is not completely accurate as far as your chances of contracting this bug.  The chances are increased because most of these raw egg based dishes are made with pooled eggs (i.e. many raw eggs mixed together in one bowl or mixer) thereby allowing one contaminated egg to infect many and therefore an entire dish or sauce that may likely be served to many people.

I also would argue just based on the benefits versus the dangers.  Besides the fact that technology has improved such that pasteurized eggs are now widely available in all the ways needed to produce these sauces and dishes safely, with no discernible difference from using raw eggs; the dangers, including severe complications and death for high risk individuals, are too high and too painful to put yourself at risk.

The lesson to take away is not to trust that the restaurant is complying with the law but to ask questions, observe and do your own investigating if need be to assure you and your family are protected, especially if you find it difficult to avoid these higher risk foods.

About the Author

Michael Doom worked as a Registered Environmental Health Specialist (REHS) for Los Angeles County for more than 21 years.  For most of these years he worked as a field inspector and Supervising Senior REHS in the retail food inspection programs. His experience within Los Angeles County has taken him to some of the smallest “mom and pop” restaurants and markets in the poorest areas of south Los Angeles, as well as to the largest facilities and affluent areas on the west side. He has literally conducted thousands of inspections of numerous types of restaurants, food markets, warehouses, events, and more; educated hundreds, if not more than a thousand, food facility owners, managers and employees on food sanitation and food safety , and how to prevent food poisoning hazards; has supervised more than 50 field inspectors that were responsible for an inventory of food facilities larger than many U.S. states.

Mr. Doom has a B.S. in Biology from Loyola Marymount University, an REHS with the state of California, holds a Project Management Professional (PMP®) credential from the Project Management Institute, and a Master's Certificate in Project Management from George Washington University.  Mr. Doom continuously works to expand his knowledge and experience in the subject of food safety, sanitation and food poisoning prevention.

He can be reached at Mike@foodpoisoningprevention.com