You are here:
Frequently Asked Questions about Easter Eggs
Updated BfR FAQs, 30 March 2012
No Easter is complete without colourful eggs. They are painted, hung up on branches, hidden and, of course, eaten. All the same, when blowing out raw eggs and storing boiled eggs, observing a few simple hygiene rules helps to avoid food infections. The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment has drawn up a few tips on how to enjoy Easter eggs without any stomach ache in the following FAQs:
- Is there any health risk related to the blowing out of raw eggs?
- What is salmonellosis?
- How can a Salmonella infection be avoided during the blowing out of eggs?
- How can I check that eggs are fresh?
- What should be borne in mind when storing and using raw eggs?
- How should hard boiled eggs be prepared and stored?
- How long can industrially manufactured Easter eggs be stored?
- Which paints are suitable for decorating eggs from the health angle?
During Easter children in particular love to blow out and paint eggs. However, this can lead to an infection with Salmonella because the germs are to be found both on the shell and (less frequently) inside the egg. If children use their mouths to blow out the eggs, there is a risk of ingestion of Salmonella that can then trigger salmonellosis.
Even though the number of reported infections with salmonella has been on the decrease for a few years, roughly 25,000 cases of salmonella infections were reported in the year 2011. However, the number of unreported cases is probably far higher. Salmonella infections are primarily diarrhoea disorders, frequently coupled with vomiting and headaches. Children under the age of five, older and sick people are particularly sensitive. In their cases Salmonella infections may take a more serious course and sometimes even prove fatal.
As children are especially at risk of developing salmonellosis, they should not have any contact if at all possible with raw eggs. In particular children should not blow out any eggs. One safe alternative to painting blown out raw eggs are hard boiled eggs or eggs made from materials like wood, polystyrene or plastic.
When blowing out eggs, the following hygiene measures should be complied with in order to avoid an infection with Salmonella:
- Only ever blow out fresh, clean eggs. The eggs can be washed with lukewarm water and a few drops of washing up liquid.
- The sharp tools used to prick the eggs (for instance nails or needles) should be clean and washed thoroughly after use.
- Wherever possible, an implement should be used to blow out eggs so as to avoid any direct contact with the mouth. The utensils that are particularly suited for blowing out eggs are, for instance, thin straws, disposable syringes with a thick needle. Drug stores or handicraft stores now stock miniature bellows for blowing out eggs, too.
- Before painting, the blown out eggs should be cleansed on the inside and outside with lukewarm water and a few drops of washing up liquid in order to remove any remaining raw egg.
- Any splashes of egg yolk or white should be removed immediately with kitchen roll and the work surfaces washed thoroughly.
- Once finished, wash hands thoroughly with warm water and soap.
The "best before date" is indicated on the egg packaging. Up to that date the manufacturer guarantees the shelf life as long as the eggs are correctly stored. Even after expiry of the “best before date”, eggs can normally be consumed if they have been cooked through.
You can tell whether raw eggs are fresh by placing them in a glass of cold water. Fresh eggs remain at the bottom of the glass, old eggs float to the top. This is because of the air pocket in the egg: the larger it is, the older the egg.
Raw eggs should be processed as quickly as possible and, until then, they should be stored at maximum 7°C. When eggs are blown out and painted at Easter, the egg yolk and white are normally used. In order to avoid the transfer of germs, they should be stored in closed containers. In principle, neither the raw egg nor its shell should come into contact with other foods.
Raw eggs have a natural protective coating on the shell which prevents the penetration of germs. In order to preserve the protective layer, the eggs should not be washed, particularly if the eggs are going to be stored. If they are to be blown out for Easter, then washing is a definite must.
Wherever possible the raw eggs should not be used to make dishes which are consumed without any further heating (e.g. desserts, bakery goods with non-heated fillings, coatings, mayonnaise). If eggs are sufficiently heated during boiling, frying or roasting, any germs that are present are killed. That’s why sensitive individuals (infants, sick and senior citizens) should only eat thoroughly cooked eggs. This is the case when the egg yolk and white are no longer soft.
The shelf life of hard boiled eggs depends, amongst other things, on the type of shell, preparation and storage.
The eggs should be thoroughly cooked in boiling water. The egg yolk should be hard which means boiling for around 10 minutes depending on the size of the eggs.
Generally speaking, hard boiled eggs go off more quickly when their shells are damaged and germs can penetrate the egg. For that reason eggs should not be doused with cold water after boiling. During dousing water and any germs present can pass through small cracks or the porous shell into the egg. This reduces the shelf life to just a few days.
The higher the storage temperature, the more easily food goes off because germs multiply more quickly at higher temperatures. Hence, hard boiled eggs should also be stored if at all possible in the fridge and consumed within four weeks.
Hard boiled, painted industrially manufactured Easter eggs have been given a protective varnish which prevents the penetration of germs. These eggs can, therefore, be stored for several weeks at room temperature as long as their shells have not been damaged. For reasons of safety, however, industrially manufactured eggs should also be stored after purchase in the fridge.
Commercially available artificial and natural Easter egg colours are suitable for decorating eggs. The E-numbers indicate that they have been authorised as food colours.
One alternative is to decorate eggs with foods of plant origin, for instance onion skins, spinach or beetroot.