Raw eggs have been used as ingredients in mixed drinks for hundreds of years. Various styles of cocktails call for whole eggs, or just the whites or yolks. The American Egg Board estimates that "The risk of an egg being contaminated with Salmonella bacteria is very low, about 1 in 20,000 eggs." [link] As with all beverage ingredients, proper handling of eggs is important for drink safety.
Refrigerated Eggs in the United States vs Other Countries
According to the Egg Safety Center [link]:
In the United States, it’s more than a food safety recommendation that eggs be refrigerated – it’s the law. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) determined that the best way to fight Salmonella contamination is by sanitizing the eggs before they reach the consumer. The washing process removes contaminants, but it also removes the natural coating of the egg, leaving the shell porous. On U.S. commercial egg farms, it is required that eggs are thoroughly washed and immediately refrigerated before they leave the farm and during transportation to the grocery store.
In other parts of the world, such as Europe, authorities approach the threat of Salmonella quite differently. Eggs there are not required to go through extensive washing, which leaves the protective coating on the egg. Because this coating remains on the eggs, authorities feel it is safe for them to be sold at room temperature. In some European countries, vaccines are used to prevent Salmonella in laying hens.
In America, food safety officials emphasize that once eggs have been refrigerated, it is critical they remain that way. A cool egg at room temperature can sweat, facilitating the growth of bacteria that could enter the egg through its porous shell.
Raw Egg Safety:
Though the use of raw eggs in cocktails (as well as in food items like hollandaise sauce) is not recommended by the US government and egg safety websites, the practice is fairly common in craft cocktail bars.
The Egg Safety Center recommends against using raw eggs [link]: "Raw eggs or any products containing raw eggs should not be eaten. Even though the likelihood that an egg might contain bacteria is very small, the only way to ensure that any bacteria may be present is killed is to properly cook the egg."
The US FDA says [link] "For recipes that call for eggs that are raw or undercooked when the dish is served use either shell eggs that have been treated to destroy Salmonella, by pasteurization or another approved method, or pasteurized egg products."
According to an article by the BBC [link]:
The popular belief that either the alcohol or lemon or lime juice in a cocktail would instantly kill salmonella bacteria is not quite true, argues Dr Paul Wigley, from the University of Liverpool's Institute of Infection and Global Health.
"It is much harder to eliminate the risk of salmonella with alcohol because of the high protein content in eggs. You would need a very strong cocktail… and you would need to mix the cocktail and leave it to rest for a very long time.
"Lemon and lime juice would be more effective, but you would need to use a lot and leave it to sit for a very long time for there to be any reduction whatsoever. The best way to avoid the risk of salmonella in drinks is not to use raw eggs at all."
Egg Purchasing Tips:
From an article on Supercall.com [link]
Check to make sure the egg shells are intact and the eggs look clean before buying them.
After examining for cracks, check the date the eggs were produced. In a grocery store, a carton will have a Julian Date, which indicates the numbered day of the year (from 1 for January 1 to 365 for December 31) on which an egg was packaged. At the farmer’s market you can ask the vendor when the eggs were packaged if that info isn’t obvious.
“The older an egg is—the longer since it was laid—the more the antimicrobial properties of an egg break down,” Jones says. “As an egg cools, air naturally cleans the egg of its protection to allow gas exchange so that the chick inside can breath as it grows.” In short, the fresher the egg, the better.
Egg Handling Safety Tips:
(Note that these tips refer to commercially-sold eggs in America, which are washed and must be kept refrigerated.) Several of these tips come from the Egg Safety Center [link]:
- Do not purchase eggs with cracked or damaged shells.
- Do not wash eggs before use. Eggs are washed and sanitized before packing and incorrect washing at home may cause contamination.
- Do not leave eggs out of the refrigerator for more than two hours, as a cold egg left at room temperature can sweat, which may cause bacteria growth.
- Separating egg whites and yolks should not be done using the egg shell.
- As salmonella can grow on the outside of an egg (as well as the inside), minimize shell and interior egg contact by cracking eggs on a flat, clean surface.
Bar-Specific Egg Handling:
- Wash all tins, strainers, and other equipment thoroughly after working with eggs.
- Use the freshest eggs possible.
- Consider cracking eggs to order rather than batching egg whites together, to avoid cross-contamination in the case that any one egg is contaminated.
- Consider purchasing pasteurized eggs/egg products.
"The very young, the very old and the immunocompromised—should not consume raw eggs. Since we’re talking about mixed drinks, we can presumably knock out the first of those groups. But elderly bar patrons and those undergoing medical treatment should probably exercise caution. " [link]
Many municipalities require labelling of food and beverages that contain raw egg whites with such language as “Contains raw or undercooked food products” or “Consuming raw or undercooked meats, poultry, seafood, shellfish, or eggs, may increase your risk of foodborne illness, especially if you have certain medical conditions.”
Symptoms of Salmonella Poisoning:
"Typically, a person with salmonella poisoning develops a fever, abdominal cramps and diarrhea approximately 12 to 72 hours after consuming the contaminated food. The illness usually lasts from four to seven days, and most people do not need antibiotics in order to recover." [link]
Raw Egg Alternatives:
- To recreate the foam atop cocktails shaken with egg whites, some bartenders use aquafaba (chickpea water), foamers based on soap tree bark, other commercial foamers, or pasteurized "egg products" that may be liquid or powdered.
American Egg Board [link]
Egg Safety Center [link]
"How to Use Eggs In Your Cocktail Even if You’re Raw Egg-Phobic" Food & Wine [link]
"Is It Actually Safe to Consume Raw Eggs in Cocktails?" Supercall [link]
"Egg Whites in Cocktails: Why use Them and How to do it Safely" A Bar Above [link]