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eggs Eggs are a good source of protein, and contain vitamins and minerals. They are also easy to prepare. But it's important to handle, cook and store them properly to avoid food poisoning especially for the very young, pregnant women and elderly people.

How many eggs?

egg There is no recommended limit on how many eggs people should eat. Eggs are a good choice as part of a healthy balanced diet. But remember that it's a good idea to eat as varied a diet as possible. This means we should be trying to eat a variety of foods each week to get the wide range of nutrients we need.

Eggs are a good source of:
  • protein
  • vitamin D
  • vitamin A
  • vitamin B2
  • iodine
Eggs can make a really healthy meal. Why not try one of these for your breakfast, lunch or evening meal:
  • Spanish omelettes with chunks of cooked potatoes (you could use leftover potatoes from last night's dinner) and onions served with steamed veg or a salad. All sorts of veg will work in the omelette - sweet potato, peppers, spring onions and mushrooms are all good choices.
  • Poached egg and baked beans (choose reduced salt and sugar versions if you can) served on thick sliced toast makes a great brunch - you could serve it with grilled tomatoes or mushrooms.
  • Scrambled eggs on thick slices of brown toast, add some spring onions or mushrooms and serve with grilled tomatoes.
  • Boiled eggs chopped into a summer salad. If you include salad leaves, new potatoes, green beans, red onion, olives, boiled egg and some tuna, you will have yourself a filling salad nicoise.
But remember that quiches and flans can be high in fat and salt, so try not to eat these too often. The pastry is high in fat, and quiches and flans often contain cream and cheese, and sometimes bacon too, all of which add to the saturated fat and salt content.

If you are making your own quiche or flan, go easy on the cream and cheese - if you use a strong flavoured cheese you will only need to use a small amount. And add some vegetables such as broccoli, peppers and tomatoes.

Fried eggs are higher in fat than boiled, poached or scrambled eggs, but there's nothing wrong with having them occasionally. If you do want a fried egg, use an oil that is high in unsaturated fat such as sunflower oil. It's a good idea to drain off as much of the oil as you can and it will also help to put the egg on some kitchen paper before putting it on your plate.

Eggs and cholesterol

Eggs contain cholesterol and high cholesterol levels in our blood increases our risk of heart disease.

However, the cholesterol we get from our food - and this includes eggs - has less effect on the amount of cholesterol in our blood than the amount of saturated fat we eat. So, if you are eating a balanced diet you only need to cut down on eggs if you have been told to do so by your GP or dietitian. If your GP has told you to watch your cholesterol levels, your priority should be cutting down on saturated fats.

Keeping eggs safe

egg shell broken Eating raw eggs, or eggs with runny yolks, or any food containing these, can cause food poisoning especially for anyone who is:
  • very young (babies to toddlers)
  • elderly
  • pregnant
  • already unwell
This is because some eggs contain salmonella bacteria, which can cause serious illness, especially for anyone in these groups. So if you are preparing food for anyone in these groups always make sure eggs are cooked until the white and yolk are solid.

If you want to choose the safest option, you could use pasteurised egg for all foods that won't be cooked or will be only lightly cooked. And the safest option, for example for caterers preparing food for these vulnerable groups, is to always use pasteurised egg.

There are three main issues that we should all be aware of:
  • avoiding the spread of bacteria
  • cooking eggs properly
  • storing eggs safely
Avoiding the spread of bacteria
Bacteria can spread very easily from eggs to other foods, hands, worktops, etc. There can be bacteria on the shell, as well as inside the egg, so you need to be careful how you handle eggs, when they are still in the shell and after you have cracked them.

If you touch eggs, or get some egg white or yolk on your hands, you could spread bacteria to anything else you touch, whether it's food or the fridge handle, so make sure you wash and dry your hands thoroughly.

If a whole egg, egg shell, or drips of white or yolk touch other foods, then bacteria can spread onto those foods.

Bacteria can also spread onto worktops, dishes and utensils that are touched by eggs, and then the bacteria can spread to other foods that touch the worktops, dishes or utensils.

So remember to:
  • Keep eggs away from other foods, when they are still in the shell and after you have cracked them.
  • Be careful not to splash egg onto other foods, worktops or dishes.
  • Always wash and dry your hands thoroughly after touching eggs or working with them.
  • Clean surfaces, dishes and utensils thoroughly, using warm soapy water, after working with eggs.
Cooking eggs properly
If you cook eggs until both the white and yolk are solid this will kill any bacteria. If you are cooking a dish containing eggs, make sure you cook it until the food is steaming hot all the way through.

Foods that are made with raw eggs and then not cooked, or only lightly cooked, can cause food poisoning. This is because any bacteria in the eggs won't be killed.

All the following might contain raw eggs:
  • home-made mayonnaise
  • BĂ©arnaise and hollandaise sauces
  • some salad dressings
  • ice cream
  • icing
  • mousse
  • tiramisu and other desserts
For the safest choice, you could use pasteurised egg instead (available from some supermarkets), because pasteurisation kills bacteria.

If you're concerned, when you're eating out or buying food that isn't labelled and you're not sure whether a food contains raw egg, ask the person serving you.

If you buy commercially produced mayonnaise, salad dressings, sauces, ice cream, desserts, or ready-made icing, these will almost always have been made using pasteurised egg. Check the label but ask if you're not sure.

Storing eggs safely
Here are some tips to help you store your eggs safely:
  • Do store eggs in a cool, dry place, ideally in the fridge.
  • Do store eggs away from other foods. It's a good idea to use your fridge's egg tray, if you have one, because this helps to keep eggs separate.
  • Do eat dishes containing eggs as soon as possible after you've prepared them, but if you're not planning to eat them straight away, cool them quickly and then keep them in the fridge.
  • Don't use eggs after their 'best before' date for the safest choice.
  • Don't use eggs with damaged shells, because dirt or bacteria might have got inside them.