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Health Topics > Healthy Outlook > Avoiding Sickness from Eggs

Avoiding Sickness from Eggs

Published by Contra Costa Times

Posted on Tuesday, November 30, 2010
By Susan Farley, RN

Residents need to know how to properly handle and prepare eggs to ensure they are not at risk for salmonella.

Salmonella infections are caused by bacteria found in reptiles, cattle, birds, rodents and humans. Some of these animals hide the bacteria without appearing to be ill.

Since salmonella lives in many places, it is able to contaminate eggs and other foods anywhere from the farm to your table. Thus, it is important to select, store, handle and cook your foods properly.

About 50,000 cases of salmonella occur each year in the U.S. Symptoms may include fever, nausea, diarrhea, and painful body and abdominal aches within three days.

Symptoms usually go away within a week without medical treatment; however, some people will continue to carry the bacteria for a longer time.

Antidiarrhea medication like Imodium (loperamide) can help relieve abdominal cramping, but may not stop diarrhea. Painkillers can help lower fever.

Discuss the need for these medications with your health care provider before use. Drink plenty of liquids to avoid dehydration. Sports drinks such as Gatorade are ideal.

Consult a physician if nausea or vomiting prevent you from absorbing fluids, and/or you feel weak and your mouth is dry.

People considered at high risk for salmonella are:

  • Children younger than 9 years
  • Adults older than 60 years
  • Pregnant women
  • People suffering a chronic condition (AIDS, diabetes, etc.)
    Infection in high-risk people can result in severe illness. So how do you prevent getting salmonella?

Selection: Do not buy a carton of eggs that has passed its 'sell-by' date or has been recalled. Avoid cartons that contain dirty or cracked eggs.

Storage: Bacteria thrive in warm environments. Eggs should be refrigerated or in a cooler at all times. Discard eggs that have been kept at room temperature for two hours or longer. Uncooked, refrigerated eggs are good to use for up to four weeks. Fully cooked eggs can be safely refrigerated for up to one week.

Handling: Wash hands, cooking utensils and food preparation surfaces with soap and water before and after contact with raw eggs or raw meat. This will prevent cross-contamination with foods that are ready to eat.

Cooking: Eggs should be cooked until the white and the yolk are firm. Undercooked eggs are not safe to eat unless they have been pasteurized. Eating improperly handled or cooked eggs is one way to get salmonella, but it's not the only way.

Handling raw meat, especially chicken and turkey, and not washing your hands is an almost certain way to develop illness.

Other common ways to spread salmonella are washing pet accessories in the kitchen sink and eating while handling pets.

For more information about salmonella, visit

Farley is the public health nurse manager for the Communicable Disease Program of Contra Costa Health Services.

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