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Hartselle Enquirer

Egg-cellent Easter ideas

By Staff
Emily Russell Campbell, Regional Extension Agent
NE Region 2, Alabama Cooperative Extension System
Easter is just a week away, and many children will find colored eggs nestled side by side with chocolate bunnies in cheerful baskets or lurking in hiding places waiting to be discovered.
It is important always to handle eggs properly to prevent foodborne illness. To begin, throw away, or better yet don't buy raw eggs with cracked shells. Even eggs with clean, uncracked shells can occasionally be contaminated with bacteria, especially Salmonella Enteritidis (SE).
How does Salmonella infect eggs? First, bacteria can be on the outside of a shell egg. That's because the egg exits the hen's body through the same passageway as feces is excreted. That's why eggs are washed and sanitized at the processing plant. Bacteria can also be inside an uncracked, whole egg. Contamination of eggs may be due to bacteria within the hen's ovary or oviduct before the shell forms around the yolk and white. SE doesn't make the hen sick. It is also possible for eggs to become infected by Salmonella Enteritidis fecal contamination through the pores of the shells after they're laid.
The shell of an egg is very porous and will permit bacteria to penetrate. Most commercial egg producers lightly coat their eggs with a thin spray coating of mineral oil to close the pores against contamination. Cooking the egg in the shell, however, removes that barrier so that your hard cooked eggs are again prone to contamination unless you protect them by proper handling.
But proper cooking will destroy the harmful bacteria, and proper handling will prevent bacteria from developing and multiplying. Cleanliness is the key. Wash hands with hot, soapy water before handling eggs and again after placing eggs in the boiling water. Bacteria may have gotten on hands from the shell of the eggs and contamination can be transferred to the clean eggs when you touch them again.
Kitchen surfaces and cooking equipment also should be cleaned thoroughly when working with eggs, both before handling them and afterwards. Otherwise, cross-contamination can spread bacteria from one food or surface to another.
To reduce the risk of cracking shells in hard-boiling of eggs, place a single layer of eggs in a saucepan. Add water to at least one inch above the eggs. Cover the pan and bring water to a boil. Boil eggs at least 2 to 3 minutes; then remove pan from heat. Let eggs stand in hot water for about 15 minutes for large eggs and 12 minutes for medium eggs. Cooling eggs immediately after this allows them to be peeled easier but also eliminates the green ring that can form around the yolks. Immerse them in cool running water for five minutes or so. If you don't want to peel the eggs and want to color them for Easter, place them in an uncovered container in the refrigerator and allow them to dry.
Eggs should reach room temperature or below prior to dyeing. Do not handle when dyeing eggs, be careful not to crack them as bacteria can enter the eggs through the cracks. Use food-grade dyes, such as commercial egg dyes, liquid food coloring or fruit drink powders. Hard-cooked eggs should not sit out unrefrigerated for more than 2 hours. Keep eggs refrigerated until you put them into Easter baskets. Store eggs in their original container on a shelf inside the refrigerator, rather than on the refrigerator door. Door storage does not ensure proper temperature. Refrigerate eggs after coloring until they are to be hidden or eaten.
Care should be used in choosing hiding places for Easter eggs. Make sure to avoid areas where the eggs might come into contact with pets, wild animals, birds, reptiles, insects or lawn chemicals. Some egg suppliers offer pre-cooked Easter eggs, decorated or plain, that are resin coated for extra protection against contamination.
The resin coating also doubles the eggs' shelf life so that they will keep for two weeks instead of just one.
It is best to not actually use hard cooked eggs for hiding. Use plastic eggs and replace them with the hard cooked ones as soon as the hunt is over. If eggs are cracked or broken during the hunt, children may be disappointed when you have to throw them away. Therefore, it is better to keep the hard cooked eggs refrigerated until the hunt. Then, all can sit down and enjoy a safe Easter egg feast.
The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Alabama A&M University and Auburn University) offers educational programs, materials, and equal opportunity employment to all people without regard to race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age, veteran status, or disability. Emily Russell Campbell is Regional Extension Agent for Food Safety, Preparation and Preservation, Region 2, Northeast Alabama (574-2143).

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