In the 1990s, thanks to some alarmist and
irresponsible food and nutritional journalism, consumers became unnecessarily
afraid of eggs because of a purported risk of food borne illness. I delved into the research on raw eggs at the
time, because as a cookbook author I faced concerned editors who wanted me to
address the question.
What I learned is that the chances of getting a food borne illness from raw eggs is very low and statistically nil. In fact, it is about the same as spinach or any food that is mishandled. A recent study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (Risk Analysis, April 2002 22 (2): 203-18) showed that of the 69 billion eggs produced annually, only 2.3 million of them are contaminated with salmonella, meaning .003 percent of eggs are infected, 1 in every 30,000 raw eggs. Furthermore the eggs most likely to have salmonella bacteria that will make you sick (being severely ill or dying is even rarer) for the most part come from industrially raised, that is, conventionally raised, chickens. Only sick chickens lay salmonella-contaminated eggs. Therefore, when buying organic eggs the risk virtually disappears. The average consumer might encounter a contaminated egg once every 84 years. And if you’re healthy to begin with salmonella at most will make you feel a little sick which passes in a few hours to a day. Conclusion: there’s no reason why you shouldn’t eat real mayonnaise or have a prairie oyster (a raw egg yolk served in a spoon with a sprinkle of salt, pepper, and a drop of lemon juice).
Now, that being said you will read over the years about egg recalls, about contamination and so forth and about how one should avoid eggs. There are risks in the world of food, from leafy spinach touched with manure to bad lots of commercial eggs. The best way to navigate through this is to buy organic from smaller farmers at farmers markets (ideally), to look at the date stamped on your egg carton when you read about recalls, and to use common sense.