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Avoid Food-Borne Illness, Handle Easter Eggs Properly

By Susan M. Collins-Smith, MSU Extension Service

It is best to discard hard-boiled eggs used for Easter egg hunting, but families who plan to eat them should follow some safety guidelines. (Photo by Can Stock Photo Inc./phbcz)

RAYMOND, Miss. -- Eggs are a traditional part of Easter décor and celebrations, and it is risky to eat or use these hard-boiled eggs for recipes after the festivities are over.

Fran Brock, a family and consumer science agent with the Mississippi State University Extension Service in Oktibbeha County, said the best practice is to discard hard-boiled eggs used for Easter decorations or hunts.

“We don’t recommend eating eggs that have been used for hunting or display,” Brock said. “Hunts usually take place outside, and you don’t want to eat eggs that have been lying on the ground or in other areas that may be contaminated with bacteria or chemicals. Bacteria can easily contaminate the egg, especially if the shell is cracked.”

Eggs used for display will likely exceed the two-hour limit for being out of refrigeration.

However, if people insist on eating their Easter eggs, it is important to observe some safe handling guidelines.

“Eggs must be hidden and hunted within two hours to reduce the risk of food poisoning,” she said. “Keeping eggs out of refrigeration for longer than two hours can allow bacteria to multiply. Hidden eggs should be protected from dirt, pets, birds, insects and other sources of bacteria.”

Once the hunt is over, check the eggs for cracks before returning them to the refrigerator. Throw away any eggs that are cracked. Eat the remaining eggs within seven days.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service also recommends washing the hunted eggs before returning them to the refrigerator.

Even if a hunt takes place indoors, eggs can still pick up dangerous bacteria. Hard-boiled eggs are more susceptible than fresh eggs to bacterial contamination because boiling removes the naturally occurring protective outer layer on the shell. Eggs used for hunting are also handled a lot, which increases the risk of bacterial contamination even more.

Always follow basic food safety guidelines when decorating eggs that will later be eaten. Wash hands, utensils and surfaces before, during and after cooking and decorating eggs. Also, use a food-safe dye for coloring the eggs.

Plastic, wooden and paper eggs are three alternatives to hard-boiled eggs.

“You can put money and candy inside plastic eggs, and those things will be protected from the elements and bacteria if you hide and hunt eggs outside,” Brock said. “Wooden and paper eggs can be used if you do this activity indoors. These eggs are more expensive, but you can also paint and decorate them easily.”

If families end up with an abundance of eggs this Easter, the best way to store them long term is to freeze them, said Natalie Ray, an Extension family and consumer science agent in Clay County.

Raw whole eggs, egg whites and egg yolks outside the shell can be frozen. Hard-boiled eggs do not freeze well because the white becomes tough and rubbery. For best quality, whisk them before freezing for improved texture when cooked.

“I like to designate a clean ice cube tray to freeze the eggs in,” Ray said. “I put one egg per cube. Then, once frozen, I take them out of the ice tray and put them in an airtight container or bag.”

These cubes make measuring easy when the time comes to use them, and eggs can be thawed one at a time or in multiples. Eggs can be frozen together in a larger container; just be sure to label how many eggs are in the container.

Yolks and whole eggs may thicken when frozen. To improve texture when thawed, add either 1/8 teaspoon of salt or a teaspoon and a half of sugar or corn syrup for each four egg yolks or each two whole eggs before freezing them.

“Just be sure to label if they are sweet or salty, so you won’t be in for a surprise when you use them in a recipe,” Ray said.

If several eggs are frozen together in the same container, use a measuring spoon for proper portions when thawed.

One whole, large egg equals approximately 3 tablespoons. Use 2 tablespoons of egg white to equal one egg white. One tablespoon of yolk is equivalent to one egg yolk.

Egg dishes, such as quiche, French toast and casseroles, can also be frozen.

“I love to freeze ahead,” Ray said. “It is perfect for busy moms and those who want a convenient meal when things are busy. I have frozen French toast and breakfast wraps with eggs in them. Just keep in mind whether you will bake or microwave French toast once it’s thawed.”

Either way, prepare and precook the toast. If it will be pan fried or baked when thawed, cook the toast just enough to allow the egg mixture to set. If the toast will be microwaved, cook it until done. Then, lay toast out on a cookie sheet and freeze. Remove the toast and store individually in zip-top bags.

For other egg dishes, cook to a soft scramble or just slightly softer than you prefer the final dish. Allow the eggs to cool in the fridge before putting them in an air-tight container to freeze. Be sure containers are air tight to ensure eggs and egg dishes taste fresh.

Always thaw frozen eggs and egg dishes safely. The best method is to thaw them in the refrigerator overnight. They can also be placed in their container under cold, running water. Yolks should be used immediately after thawing.

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