WASHINGTON — Egg cartons will soon bear new safety warnings designed to help Americans avoid food poisoning.
Eggs can be infected with salmonella, a type of bacteria that cooks can avoid if they handle eggs properly. So the Food and Drug Administration on Thursday ordered that all egg cartons bear the following warning:
"To prevent illness from bacteria: Keep eggs refrigerated, cook eggs until yolks are firm, and cook foods containing eggs thoroughly."
Safety experts have long warned that eating raw eggs — anything from undercooking breakfast to nibbling raw cookie dough — can cause food poisoning. But the FDA hopes its new warning label helps spread word that preventing the problem is simple.
"You just need to cook your eggs thoroughly — no sunny-side up, no over-easy," advised FDA Commissioner Jane Henney. "This is a case when it’s better to be safe than sorry."
An estimated one in every 20,000 eggs is contaminated with salmonella, which can cause diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps, headache, nausea and vomiting. Healthy people recover quickly, but young children, the elderly and people with weak immune systems may develop severe, even life-threatening infections.
Salmonella illnesses associated with raw or undercooked eggs soared in the 1980s and 1990s, reaching a peak of 3.6 cases for every 100,000 people in 1996. The rate dropped to 2.2 cases per 100,000 people in 1998.
The FDA’s new rule allows manufacturers nine months to add the warning labels.
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