Raw animal foods are controversial and debated, and there is no doubt that caution is required with food preparation and storage when it is eaten raw. There are benefits in taste, consistency, and nutrition all when eating raw animal foods, including meat, eggs, and milk.
Today we are going to look into how to consume raw eggs, what the benefits are, where we need to use caution, and what dangers may be present.
I hear you, you’re skeptical. Stay with me :)
Why would it be dangerous to consume raw eggs?
Like other nutrient-dense foods, raw animal foods, including eggs, provide an excellent medium for bacteria to grow and reproduce. Salmonella is a pathogenic bacteria that can cause dehydration, vomiting, diarrhea, and rarely death. Anyone who has had salmonella will assure you that it is a nasty illness that we want to avoid.
In 2015-16 outbreaks of salmonella have been found to come from (source)
- Alfalfa Sprouts
- Meal Replacement Shakes
- Pet turtles (cuddling/handling, not eating)
- Frozen chicken dinners
- Live poultry (handling)
- Frozen tuna
- Pet geckos (handling)
Sick chickens can be infected with salmonella, if the salmonella is in their ovaries, usually not all eggs are contaminated, but of the few that are, the contamination can be in the egg itself (not just on the shell) (source)
But this is highly unlikely, and if you know your chickens, or your know that your farmer knows their chickens, they will see that the chickens are sick. (source)
Now let’s look into how common salmonella actually is in the average egg.
- The risk of an egg being contaminated with salmonella is about 1 in 20,000 (source)
- Even if the egg is contaminated, refrigeration keeps the risk minimal as the bacteria do not have the warmth needed to grow.
- Now eggs are washed when sold commercially, as it is most likely for salmonella from the GI tract to be transferred to the egg as the hen lays the egg. Prior to 1970 this was not standard practice and most outbreaks of salmonella were from shell eggs. (source)
Why would we want to take this risk at all?
Because chefs everywhere know that raw eggs, especially the yolks, have unique helpful properties in cooking. And while traditional cultures have been consuming raw eggs for a long time (source), modern knowledge is again seeing the health benefits of consuming this nutrient-dense, easy-to-digest food.
And because it really is not that risky, especially if you check your eggs when a recall is listed (see a list of recalls here– note that recalls are primarily due to mistakes in inspection, not from illness or outbreaks).
What do I do personally?
I happily use raw organic eggs as a protein, vitamin, mineral, and fat source for my whole family. When I am pregnant, I find that raw egg yolks in a smoothie is the easiest way to get needed protein, and my family has healthy immune systems so I really don’t worry about raw eggs at all.
I’m thankful for the awareness about salmonella, as those who raise chickens can keep a careful eye on the health of their flock, and we can take safe handling procedures such as washing the eggs before use, and investigating illness of chickens, and use caution.
Some people give their infants raw egg yolks starting at 3 months (per the Weston Price recommendations), and I personally do not do that, but rather I start with liver and then introduce runny yolks to them closer to a year. As a nursing mother, I do continue to consume raw eggs, especially the yolks.
I find that my family gets tired of cooked eggs, so I’m thankful for the nutrition, versatility, and economic advantage of being able to use raw eggs in our food.
When I can, I source eggs locally from trusted farmers, but I also purchase and use organic eggs from the grocery store. If money is tight, we do purchase conventionally raised eggs, and I am less likely to eat those raw.
As you know, I am more concerned about our children consuming ‘food-like items’ with known health risks than I am the less than 1/20,000 risk of consuming an egg that might contain salmonella.
Some recipes that I use raw eggs in:
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My 7 year old is pretty much a vegetarian due to his pickiness and while I ensure he gets enough protein, I do worry about his choline. I make him warm milk with raw honey and blend in 2 raw egg yolks pretty much every day. I also put raw yolks in smoothies and popsicles. I’ve been doing it for about 4 years now and haven’t had any issues. I used to buy eggs from a local farm but they got rid of their chickens. Now I buy organic eggs from the grocery store and wash the shells with soap and water before cracking them.