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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- With Easter egg hunts and Passover Seder dinner planners poised to flock to the dairy case this week, USDA has some important advice for retailers looking to help their customers protect against foodborne illness.
"Eggs play a key role in spring religious holidays," said Susan Conley, director of Food Safety Education for USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). "Hard-cooked eggs for Easter and Passover celebrations should be prepared with care."
As such, Conley says it's important to remind consumers of the following information:
-- Only food grade dye should be used when coloring eggs.
-- When using hard-boiled eggs for Easter egg hunts, avoid cracking the shells, which could introduce bacteria and contaminate the egg inside.
-- Hide eggs in places that are protected from dirt, pets, and other bacteria sources, and keep hard-boiled eggs chilled in the refrigerator until just before the hunt. Total time for hiding and hunting eggs should be no more than two hours.
-- Be sure to refrigerate the "found" eggs immediately.
-- Never consume, and always dispose of, eggs that have been found hours later or the next day.
Eggs also play and important role on the Seder plate during Passover celebrations. Accordingly, consumers should be mindful that:
-- If an egg sits out at room temperature for more than two hours, it should not be eaten. Keep them in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
-- When shell eggs are hard-cooked, the protective coating is washed away, leaving open pores in the shell where harmful bacteria could enter. Be sure to refrigerate eggs within two hours of cooking and use them within a week. Check your refrigerator temperature with an appliance thermometer and adjust the refrigerator temperature to 40°F (Fahrenheit) or below.
For general egg safety, USDA advises consumers to:
-- Always buy eggs from a refrigerated case. Choose eggs with clean, uncracked shells.
-- Buy eggs before the "Sell-By" or -Exp.- (expiration) date on the carton.
-- Take eggs straight home from the grocery store and refrigerate them right away.
-- Check to be sure your refrigerator is set at 40°F or below.
-- Don't take eggs out of the carton to put them in the refrigerator -- the carton protects them.
-- Keep the eggs in the coldest part of the refrigerator -- not on the door.
-- Raw shell eggs in the carton can stay in your refrigerator for three to five weeks from the purchase date. Although the "Sell-By" date might pass during that time, the eggs are still safe to use.
-- Always wash your hands with warm water and soap before and after handling raw eggs. To avoid cross-contamination, you should also wash forks, knives, spoons and all counters and other surfaces that touch the eggs with hot water and soap.
-- Don't keep raw or cooked eggs out of the refrigerator more than two hours.
-- Egg dishes such as deviled eggs or egg salad should be used within 3 to 4 days.
For more information, direct consumers to the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline toll free at: 1-888-MPHotline or 1-888-674-6854, TTY: 1-800-256-7072.