March 2005 Edition
Quality Source: The Right Way to Store and Handle Fresh Shell Eggs

According to the American Egg Board, Park Ridge, Ill., eggs not only are incredibly edible, but also incredibly safe provided that they are properly stored, handled and prepared.

For foodservice operators, egg safety procedures begin the moment a delivery arrives. For shell eggs, check to ensure that the trucks they arrive on are refrigerated at 45°F or below. Then, inspect the eggs themselves to make sure they are clean, sound (no cracks or breakage) and odor free. Ensure that egg products, such as whole eggs, egg whites and egg yolks in frozen, refrigerated liquid and dried forms, are delivered at temps appropriate for their type (0°F or below for frozen, 45°F or below for refrigerated, 70°F or below for dried).

In addition, egg products must be labeled as pasteurized and display a U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection mark. Packaging should be tightly sealed, and frozen products should show no signs of thawing.

Inside the foodservice operation, shell eggs should be stored in their fiberboard cases at 40°F or below, and follow a rotation of first-in, first-out. Frozen egg products should go directly to the freezer (0°F or below), while refrigerated egg products go straight to the cooler (40°F or below).

When it comes time to handle eggs and egg products, kitchen personnel should first wash their hands, then select only the quantity of eggs or products required for immediate use. Use clean, sanitized utensils and equipment to prepare eggs and, to avoid cross-contamination, never reuse items that come into contact with raw egg mixtures without first resanitizing.

When working with frozen egg products, place inside a cooler or under cold running water to defrost. Thaw only the amount of product needed for immediate use. However, should leftovers occur, cover, refrigerate and use within one to three days.

For refrigerated products, check labeling for exact shelf life, and use all opened packages promptly.

Egg preparation time and temperature recommendations vary somewhat from other food products in that thermometers cannot always be employed. You can't really check the temperature of a fried egg because you'd have to break it to do so, notes Steve Hoover, a Valparaiso, Ind., manager for Bob Evans Restaurants. 'Instead, we make sure the grill is at 250°F-any hotter and you'd cook the outside of the egg before the inside is done. Then, we cook the egg until the white is completely cooked and the yolk has started to set.'

Because the foodborne illness risk associated with undercooked eggs is too high, Hoover says his waitstaff turns down customer requests for lightly cooked, runny eggs. 'We can't ensure that any potential pathogens have been destroyed by heat.'

Hoover adds that for menu items commonly made from pooled eggs-multiple shell eggs broken into a common container-his operation uses a refrigerated pasteurized egg product instead. Kept in an insulated container and removed from the cooler only as needed, the egg product is used to make scrambled eggs and omelets to order.

This egg product has greatly reduced the possibility of cross-contamination, Hoover says. In the past, restaurants used a common scrambled egg bowl to mix eggs to order, he explains. 'Although people were supposed to change the bowl and wire whip each time they used it, that step was easy to overlook during rushes. Using a refrigerated egg product helps us prepare pooled egg dishes safely and more quickly because the eggs are already mixed.'

Because all Bob Evans egg dishes are cooked to order, Hoover's staff need not be concerned with holding times and temperatures. But operations that hold cooked eggs should note these Egg Board and FDA recommendations: Hold hot egg dishes above 140°F, using a fresh pan for each batch; hold no longer than 30 minutes; and never add raw egg mixtures to cooked products. Hold cold egg dishes below 40°F.