Just a poached egg

I like to teach with stories.  I think people learn more and remember it if they relate a topic to a real-life experience. Sometimes telling one story can lead to others and people can personalize the topic. Hopefully this will help them remember and make use of this knowledge.

When teaching food safety we always get to the topic of raw or undercooked eggs.  Here’s the story I tell….

One day I went to visit my 98 year old great aunt who was living in a nursing home. She shared a frustration with me. She had asked the dietary staff if she could please have a poached egg. She wasn’t feeling well and remembered her mother cooking her poached eggs when she was sick. She was looking for a comfort food.

She was told that she could only have a poached egg if she signed (as she called it) a piece of paper saying that she knew she might get sick(er) if she ate this egg.  First off, she was legally blind and really couldn’t read this paper they gave her. Secondly, she wasn’t feeling well, just wanted a poached egg and didn’t really want to be bothered with a paper.  She was confused and didn’t understand.

She didn’t get the egg.  This makes me sad.

What’s the background here?

Rightfully, the nursing home staff was concerned about this elderly and sick person contracting salmonellosis from an undercooked egg. I applaud them for this concern.  At her age a case of salmonellosis could be very risky.

For the average healthy adult the risk of getting sick from a Salmonella contaminated egg is very low. It is estimated that as few as three in 10,000 eggs are contaminated. (http://foodsafetytalk.com/ #156)

Typically, people infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps between 12 and 72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days, and most individuals recover without treatment.  In some cases, diarrhea may be so severe that the patient needs to be hospitalized. Salmonella ranks second of all foodborne illnesses in the United States. It’s important that remember that children, the elderly, pregnant women and those people with weakened immune systems are more susceptible to a food borne illness such as this and need to be more concerned.

One way to reduce the risk from Salmonella bacteria is to thoroughly cook eggs until 145 degrees F.  At this temperature both the whites and yolks are firm. Yes, this means the yolks should not be runny. This rules out sunny-side-up, over-easy, soft boiled, runny scrambled and my aunt’s beloved poached egg. For dishes containing eggs like quiche and souffles, they should be cooked until an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit is reached.

What could they have done? There is an alternative –but does cost a little more. The answer is pasteurized shell eggs. These eggs have been heat treated so that they can be served undercooked without a risk.

I’ve had many nursing home and assisted living employees in my classes and frequently they tell me that they do use pasteurized eggs and offer poached and other eggs with “runny yolks” to their residents.  I’m glad to hear this.

I should have dug a little deeper into the situation, asked a few more questions and been a better advocate for my aunt.

Hopefully, my telling this story gives my students a chance to think about their choices, their options and the risks they take.

Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS

Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

 

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updated on 11-17-2018