||The examples and perspective in this article deal primarily with the United States and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (December 2010)|
Pasteurized eggs are eggs that have been pasteurized in order to reduce the risk of food-borne illness in dishes that are not cooked or are only lightly cooked. They may be sold as liquid egg products or pasteurized in the shell.
The United States FDA Food Code defines regular shell eggs as a potentially hazardous food, i.e., “a food that requires time/temperature control for safety (TCS) to limit pathogenic microorganism growth or toxin formation.”
All egg products sold in the USA must be pasteurized due to the risk of food-borne illnesses. The U.S. Department of Agriculture does not allow any egg products to be sold without going through the process of pasteurization. They also do not recommend eating shell eggs that are raw or undercooked due to the possibility that Salmonella bacteria may be present.
Because of the risk of food-borne illness caused by Salmonella bacteria that may be present in raw eggs, the U.S. Department of Agriculture requires a safe-handling advisory statement on all packages of raw shell eggs that are not treated to destroy Salmonella as follows: "Safe Handling Instructions: To prevent illness from bacteria: Keep eggs refrigerated, cook eggs until yolks are firm, and cook foods containing eggs thoroughly."
The primary risk associated with eggs is food-borne illness caused by Salmonella enteritidis bacteria. Salmonella enteritidis is a dangerous bacterium that can be transferred to humans through ingestion of raw or undercooked eggs. Eggs and egg-containing foods have been identified as the vehicle in roughly 80% of known-source Salmonella enteritidis infections in the United States.
Salmonellosis, the illness that a Salmonella infection causes, is characterized by nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, fever, and headache. The onset of its symptoms begins between 6 hours and 48 hours after the consumption of food contaminated with Salmonella bacteria. As few as 15 bacterial cells can cause food-borne illness.
The Centers for Disease Control and for Disease Prevention estimate there are 217,946 cases of salmonellosis per year in the US (based on data from 2000), and that 174,356 of these cases can be attributed directly to eggs. Of these, an estimated 1440 illnesses require hospitalizations, 75 result in death, and 6,622 result in chronic sequelae (after-effects)—most commonly reactive arthritis, which develops 7–20 days after illness and occurs in an estimated 2-3% of cases.
Avian flu virus
Food code compliance
The FDA Food Code states that in serving highly susceptible populations (preschool age children; older adults; individuals with compromised immune systems; and individuals who receive meals through custodial care-giving environments such as child or adult day care centers, kidney dialysis centers, hospitals, or nursing homes): “Pasteurized eggs or egg products shall be substituted for raw eggs in the preparation of foods such as Caesar salad, hollandaise or Béarnaise sauce, mayonnaise, meringue, eggnog, ice cream, and egg-fortified beverages.”
The FDA Food Code has gained adoption by health jurisdictions throughout the U.S.
As distinct from whole shell eggs, “egg products” are defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as “eggs that are removed from their shells for processing." The processing of egg products includes breaking eggs, filtering, mixing, stabilizing, blending, pasteurizing, cooling, freezing or drying, and packaging. This is done at U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)-inspected plants.
Egg products include whole eggs, whites, yolks and various blends with or without non-egg ingredients that are processed and pasteurized and may be available in liquid, frozen, and dried forms. This is achieved by heating the products to a specified temperature for a specified period.
Pasteurized shell eggs
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “in-shell pasteurized eggs may be used safely without cooking”. For example, they may safely be consumed raw (as in raw cookie dough or eggnog) or in undercooked forms (such as a sunny-side up egg). Many food service and health care providers use these eggs to prevent cross-contamination in their kitchens.
By traditional pasteurization methods, heating a raw shell egg to a high enough temperature to achieve pasteurization would also cook the egg. However, beginning in the early 1980s, Dr. James P. Cox and R.W. Duffy Cox of Lynden, Washington, began developing methods to pasteurize shell eggs.
In the early 1990s, the Coxes were introduced to L. John Davidson. Davidson recognized the market need and opportunity for a safer egg option for consumers and food operations around the country. Davidson acquired a license agreement on the technology from the Cox Family and formed Pasteurized Egg Corporation to introduce safe egg technology to the consumer marketplace.
The process for pasteruizing shell eggs has been patented. Currently, National Pasteurized Eggs Inc. of Lansing, Illinois, owns Dr. Cox's patent to the pasteurization process and is the exclusive provider of pasteurized shell eggs in the U.S. The eggs can be found in a few states under the brand Davidson's Safest Choice, introduced in 2003.
Pasteurizing eggs in their shells is achieved through a patented process that involves treatment with ozone and reactive oxygen species under high and low pressures, followed by replacement with an inert gas, such as nitrogen. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “Shell eggs can be pasteurized by a processor if FDA accepted the process for the destruction of Salmonella. Pasteurized shell eggs are now available at some grocery stores. Like all eggs, they must be kept refrigerated to retain quality. The equipment to pasteurize shell eggs isn't available for home use, and it is very difficult to pasteurize shell eggs at home without cooking the contents of the egg. ” For professional chefs who have access to sous-vide equipment, however, and can effect precise control over the temperature of a water bath, pasteurization can easily be achieved by holding eggs at 135 °F (57 °C) for 75 minutes. 
After pasteurization, the eggs are coated with food-grade wax to maintain freshness and prevent environmental contamination and stamped with a red "P" in a circle to distinguish them from unpasteurized eggs.
Opinion on the quality of pasteurized shell eggs is mixed, and sometimes depends on whether comparisons involve experimental processes or products that are actually on the market. According to North Carolina State University, pasteurized shell eggs are nutritionally and aesthetically equivalent to their unpasteurized counterparts. Taste tests noted deficiencies in pasteurized shell eggs experimentally produced via a microwaved pasteurization process (not for commercially available pasteurized shell eggs). Using commercially available pasteurized shell eggs, a San Francisco Chronicle reporter noted a "slight chemical taste" for pasteurized shell eggs, and a Lifescript blogger noted a "barely detectable" flavor and aroma difference and stated the eggs were "worth" their price. Relish magazine states that pasteurized shell eggs “look like real eggs, act like real eggs and taste like real eggs.” Perishable Foods Connection cites a "total product consistency” with the commercially available pasteurized shell egg product. “Independent taste tests conducted in Good Housekeeping kitchens have not been able to tell any differences between raw and pasteurized eggs,” according to Food Safety News. According to International Business Times, demand for pasteurized shell eggs within the food service industry is strong because “states such as California, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois have adopted the most recent FDA Food Code, in which pasteurized shell eggs shall be substituted for raw eggs to at-risk groups.”
The FDA Food Code exempts pasteurized shell eggs from the definition of a potentially hazardous food.” Likewise, the U.S. Department of Agriculture exempts pasteurized shell eggs from the requirement to carry a safe handling advisory statement.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture also states, “In-shell pasteurized eggs may be used safely without cooking.”
- US Food and Drug Administration. Food Code 2005. http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/fc05-toc.html
- US Department of Agriculture. Egg Products and Food Safety. http://www.fsis.usda.gov/Factsheets/Egg_Products_and_Food_Safety/index.asp
- U.S. Department of Agriculture. Shell eggs from farm to table. http://www.fsis.usda.gov/Fact_Sheets/Focus_On_Shell_Eggs/index.asp
- World Health Organization. Highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza outbreaks in poultry and in humans: Food safety implications. 2005. http://www.who.int/foodsafety/fs_management/No_07_AI_Nov05_en.pdf
- US Food and Drug Administration. Food Code 2005
- US Food and Drug Administration. Real Progress in Food Code Adoptions. http://vm.cfsan.fda.gov/%7Eear/fcadopt.html
- Hyperpasteurization of food. http://www.freepatentsonline.com/EP0661921.pdf
- National Pasteurized Eggs. Patented Technology. http://safeeggs.com/npehistory.html
- Zeldes, Leah A. (December 23, 2009). "Eat this! Old-fashioned eggnog, made safer, thanks to Chicago-area eggs". Dining Chicago. Chicago's Restaurant & Entertainment Guide, Inc. Retrieved January 1, 2010.
- Schuman, J.; Sheldon, B. et al. (1997). "Immersion heat treatments for inactivation of Salmonella enteritidis with intact eggs". Journal of Applied Microbiology 83 (4): 438–444. PMID 9351225.
- Microwave Pasteurization of Shell Eggs - A Prelude
- Pending Pasteurization Policy Could Alter Eggs Forever
- Think Outside the Carton
- Farney, Teresa J. (2003). "In-shell pasteurization an egg-citing breakthrough in kitchen safety". The Gazette.
- Nat’l. Pasteurized Eggs Reaches Production Milestone; Processes Its 600 Millionth Egg. International Business Times. 24 September 2008 http://www.ibtimes.com/prnews/20080924/il-natl-pasteurized.htm