The N.C. Laboratory of Public Health has detected nearly five times as many cases of a food-borne illness called Salmonella enteritidis in 2005, as compared with the first six months in 2004. State health officials are continuing to investigate, and no common source for all these cases has been found.

But recent outbreaks of the illness in nearby states have largely been associated with eggs, as have several of North Carolina’s previous outbreaks, reports Dave Harbin for The Charlotte Observer.

Salmonella can be found inside eggs that appear perfectly normal but, if the eggs are eaten raw or undercooked, the bacterium can cause illness.

Eggs can be an important source of nutrition but, unlike egg-borne salmonellosis of past decades, the current epidemic has been traced to intact and disinfected grade A eggs. The reason is that salmonella can infect healthy appearing hens and contaminate eggs before the shells are even formed. These food-safety rules can help you avoid these illnesses:

  • Don’t eat raw eggs or foods containing raw eggs, like cookie dough, blender drinks, homemade mayonnaise, or homemade ice cream. Use a pasteurized liquid egg product or pasteurized in-shell eggs if the food won’t be cooked before eating. Buy clean eggs. Choose Grade A or AA eggs with clean, uncracked shells.
  • Keep eggs refrigerated in their carton in the coldest part of the refrigerator, not in the door, and use them within three to five weeks. The refrigerator should be set at 40 degrees Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius) or slightly cooler.
  • Freeze eggs for longer storage by breaking the eggs, beating the yolks and whites together, and putting the mixture in a freezer container. Use frozen eggs within one year.
  • Cook eggs until yolks are firm. Poaching, hard cooking, scrambling, frying and baking are some of the cooking methods that can be used to safely cook eggs.
  • Eat eggs promptly after cooking. Do not keep eggs warm for more than two hours.
  • Cleanliness is very important. Wash hands, utensils, equipment and work areas with warm, soapy water before and after contact with eggs and egg-rich foods.