Eggs are a staple food around the world because they're rich sources of nutrients like protein and B vitamins. You can cook them up for breakfast or mix them into baked goods. But, your parents probably warned you against eating raw eggs, such as in cookie dough, and there's a good reason why.
Eating undercooked or raw eggs can make you sick because they can carry Salmonella, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But using pasteurized eggs — and cooking them thoroughly — reduces your chances of getting sick from eating eggs, per the CDC.
Video of the Day
Still, the question remains — can you eat raw eggs if they're pasteurized? Here, we take a deep dive into the safety of eating raw pasteurized eggs.
What Are Pasteurized Eggs?
There are a lot of labels on egg cartons, and "pasteurized" is usually one of them. Pasteurized eggs are a safe alternative to raw eggs, which can make you sick.
"Pasteurized eggs are still raw eggs (until cooked), but they have been very briefly heated to and held at a certain temperature for a set duration of time in order to sterilize any and all potential microbial growth," explains Jenna Volpe, RDN, LD, a registered dietitian in Austin, Texas. "The purpose of this process is to reduce the risk of getting food poisoning from any microbes present in undercooked or raw eggs."
Fear not — this process doesn't cook the eggs or change their appearance or nutritional content, per the USDA — it simply destroys bacteria like Salmonella as eggs are prone to contamination. An estimated one out of every 20,000 chicken eggs produced in the United States is at risk of Salmonella contamination, per a May 2021 review in Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, so pasteurization is an important part of egg safety.
Egg products (such as liquid eggs) in U.S. supermarkets are pasteurized, but raw shell eggs aren't, per the USDA.
Is It Safe to Eat Raw Pasteurized Eggs?
Some of the most popular egg recipes (boiled eggs, poached eggs, egg cups) involve cooking. There are few times in the kitchen, however, when a recipe calls for raw eggs. For example, mayonnaise is traditionally made with raw egg yolks. Adding a fresh raw egg to such recipes could lead to food poisoning, but using raw pasteurized eggs may be a safe way to enjoy these recipes.
The general rule of thumb is to avoid raw eggs and any foods containing them, but does this rule apply to pasteurized eggs? It's not a hard-and-fast rule if the eggs have been treated to kill bacteria. It may even be harmless to eat raw pasteurized eggs, per the Cleveland Clinic.
"According to the CDC, it is safe to eat pasteurized eggs raw as long as they've been properly handled and stored at a temperature at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit," Volpe says. "This is because any and all microbes previously present in the raw eggs before pasteurization have been sterilized."
You can use pasteurized eggs to make foods that contain raw or undercooked eggs, according to the CDC. Raw pasteurized eggs are a safe way to add raw eggs to recipes like Caesar dressing, eggnog and meringues, according to the Egg Safety Center.
Even cookie dough made with pasteurized eggs is edible, but always check the packaging to make sure the dough is meant to be eaten without baking or cooking because eating raw flour also carries food poisoning risk, per the CDC.
When to Avoid Raw Pasteurized Eggs
"As long as raw pasteurized eggs are properly handled and stored, nobody aside from people with egg allergies needs to avoid eating raw pasteurized eggs," Volpe says.
It's recommended that some groups avoid raw fresh eggs, but pasteurized eggs may be OK. Pregnant people shouldn't eat raw eggs unless they're pasteurized, per FoodSafety.gov. While no one should eat raw unpasteurized eggs, certain groups are more at risk, such as children and older people, according to the USDA.
Raw pasteurized eggs that have been left out on the counter for too long may pose some risks. "It can still be risky to eat raw pasteurized eggs if they have been sitting out at room temperature," Volpe says.
"Leaving eggs out at room temperature for periods of time enables more microbial growth to occur within the 'danger zone' temperature range of 40 to 140 F." Eggs should never be left out for more than 2 hours or bacteria can rapidly grow, according to the USDA.
When handling raw eggs, even unpasteurized ones, always be sure to practice proper food handling and cleanliness. Wash your hands after handling raw pasteurized eggs, sanitize any surfaces that come into contact with them and keep them refrigerated.
- CDC: "Salmonella and Eggs"
- Egg Safety Center: "What process makes an egg pasteurized?"
- USDA: “Why and how are egg products pasteurized?"
- USDA: "Are all egg products pasteurized?"
- Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety: “Salmonella in eggs: From shopping to consumption—A review providing an evidence-based analysis of risk factors”
- CDC: "Say No to Raw Dough"
- CDC: "Foods That Can Cause Food Poisoning"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Is Eating Raw Eggs Bad?"
- FoodSafety.gov: "People at Risk: Pregnant Women"
- USDA: "Who is at risk for eating raw or undercooked eggs?"