Consumer shell egg consumption and handling practices: Results from a national survey
Numerous cases and outbreaks of Salmonella infection are attributable to shell eggs each year in the United States. Safe handling and consumption of shell eggs at home can help reduce foodborne illness attributable to shell eggs. A nationally representative Web survey of 1,504 U.S. adult grocery shoppers was conducted to describe consumer handling practices and consumption of shell eggs at home. Based on self-reported survey data, most respondents purchase shell eggs from a grocery store (89.5%), and these eggs were kept refrigerated (not at room temperature; 98.5%). As recommended, most consumers stored shell eggs in the refrigerator (99%) for no more than 3 to 5 weeks (97.6%). After cracking eggs, 48.1% of respondents washed their hands with soap and water. More than half of respondents who fry and/or poach eggs cooked them so that the whites and/or the yolks were still soft or runny, a potentially unsafe practice. Among respondents who owned a food thermometer (62.0%), only 5.2% used it to check the doneness of baked egg dishes the they prepared such a dish. Consumers generally followed two of the four core “Safe Food Families” food safety messages (“separate” and “chill”) when handling shell eggs at home. To prevent Salmonella infection associated with shell eggs, consumers should improve their practices related to the messages “clean” (i.e., wash hands after cracking eggs) and “cook” (i.e., cook until yolks and whites are firm and use a food thermometer to check doneness of baked egg dishes) when preparing shell eggs at home. These findings will be used to inform the development of science-based consumer education materials that can help reduce foodborne illness from Salmonella infection.