Well-Being Longevity

Why you should be careful with that eggnog

Raw eggs in eggnog could have “dire consequences” on people’s health.
Homemade vanilla Christmas drink Eggnog in glass with grated nutmeg and cinnamon sticks on gray stone background. (Getty images)

Story at a glance

  • Vanessa Coffman, director of the Alliance to Stop Foodborne Illness, is encouraging people this holiday season to be smart when making eggnog at home.  

  • The classic holiday drink is made with milk, cream, sugar and raw eggs, which always run the risk of making people sick.  

  • Salmonella is the biggest concern with raw eggs and causes about 420 deaths a year in the United States.  

Correction: This post has been updated to reflect that chickens in the U.S. are also vaccinated.

It’s that time of year when drinking heart-stoppingly creamy eggnog at all times of day is — almost — acceptable.  

While eggnog is the traditional go-to holiday drink in many U.S. households, there are some risks with imbibing in the sweet, sometimes boozy, dairy-based beverage.  

The drink is made by mixing milk, sugar, cream, nutmeg and raw eggs — which is where any potential danger lies when guzzling down glasses of the beloved libation.  

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Raw or undercooked eggs can contain that pesky bacterium called salmonella which can spark a life-threatening infection that first appears as diarrhea, vomiting, cramps and fever.  

Most salmonella infections stem from food, with the bacteria causing about 1.35 million infections a year, resulting in more than 26,000 hospitalizations and 420 deaths in the country, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  

Vanessa Coffman, director of the Alliance to Stop Foodborne Illness, told Changing America a salmonella infection can be particularly harmful in children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with autoimmune diseases.  

But even in people who do not fall into one of those categories, salmonella can lead to some “dire consequences,” Coffman said. One Florida woman became almost housebound due to her need to frequently use the restroom three years after being infected.  

Coffman added that there are some pathogens on eggshells that have the potential to make humans sick. But in the United States, commercial eggs are typically washed before they hit store shelves minimizing the risk of those pathogens spreading to people.  

Here are a few tips from Coffman on how to enjoy eggnog safely this holiday season.  

Heat up the eggs  

When making eggnog at home follow a recipe that calls for a cooked egg base which will bring the temperature of the eggs to 160 degrees in order to kill any pathogens or bacteria, Coffman recommends.

Purchase in-shell pasteurized eggs or egg substitutes 

Make sure to buy pasteurized eggs or “egg products” before cooking. Eggs in the shell are pasteurized by submerging them in warm water baths to kill bacteria, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  

“Egg products,” or any egg that has been removed from its shell for processing, are pasteurized in the U.S. or rapidly heated for the purpose of killing bacteria.  

Switch to an egg-free recipe  

There are many egg-free recipes for eggnog like this alternative “egg not” drink. There are also many just as festive eggnog-adjacent beverages like Coquito, a holiday coconut milk and rum-based drink from Puerto Rico.  

Don’t let eggnog sit out too long 

There are some general food rules that should be applied to eggnog.

“I think that not celebrating together for a couple of years because of COVID maybe those have become a little rusty for folks,” Coffman told Changing America.  

Coffman suggests not keeping eggnog out in a large bowl at a party, for example, for more than two hours.

“That really goes for any food,” she said. “Put a smaller amount out and then refresh it if needed.”  

When in doubt, throw it out 

According to Coffman, in some countries where commercial eggs are not washed before being sold it is OK to keep them outside of the refrigerator for days or even weeks. In Europe and the U.S., hens are vaccinated against salmonella to prevent the spread of the bacteria.  

In the U.S., the waxy, protective coating of the egg is washed off before being shipped to grocery stores.

Store-bought eggs are safe to eat if they are refrigerated three to five weeks from the day they are placed in the refrigerator, Coffman said. “Sell-by” date will usually expire during that time.  

“You don’t have to necessarily throw them out if they’re past that. But I’d rather have people be a little safe than sorry, especially if people are considering making raw egg foods,” Coffman said.  

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