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Egg Safety

Besides being a basic food staple, eggs present a special symbolism for spring in many cultures. For some, decorated eggs are part of our spring traditions and festivities. But even in our modern kitchens eggs can be a source of concern for food safety and should be handled as a perishable food.

Check before you buy

Before you purchase eggs, check them in the carton to make sure they are not cracked or broken. Notice the “sell-by” or “use by” date that is stamped on the carton. Fresh, uncooked eggs that have been properly refrigerated can be used up to three weeks after the sell-by date. However, the quality will be diminished after the sell-by date. For example, the yolk may not be centered in hard cooked eggs, due to the thinning of the whites.

Handle the carton carefully to avoid breakage on the way home. Once home store the eggs in the refrigerator in the original carton. The egg tray on the refrigerator door is not a safe place to store eggs.

Even eggs with clean, uncracked shells can occasionally be contaminated with bacteria. Proper cooking will destroy the harmful bacteria, and proper handling will prevent bacteria from developing and multiplying. Regardless of the cooking method you use, (scrambled, fried, etc.) cook eggs thoroughly.

Do not leave eggs or foods containing eggs, cooked or uncooked, at room temperature for more than two hours. Do not eat foods with raw eggs, such as unbaked cookie dough or cake batter, soggy French toast and uncooked homemade ice cream and salad dressing, as it could result in illness.

Are your hard cooked eggs green?

You may have noticed a greenish ring or “halo” around the yolk of a hard cooked egg. This harmless but unattractive discoloration is a result of a reaction between sulfur in the egg white and iron in the yolk. It occurs when the eggs have been cooked for too long or at too high a temperature.

Perfecting the art of the hard cooked egg

  1. Place cold eggs in a saucepan large enough to hold the eggs in a single layer.
  2. Cover with one-inch of water.
  3. Heat over high heat just to boiling.
  4. Cover the pan and remove from the burner. Let the eggs sit in the hot water about 12 minutes for large eggs, 9 minutes for medium and 15 minutes for extra-large eggs.
  5. Drain immediately and serve warm. Or, cool completely under cold running water or in a bowl of ice water and then refrigerate. Note: If you are planning to color the eggs, adding about a tablespoon of vinegar to the water will allow better dye coverage.

Very fresh eggs can be difficult to peel. If you can plan ahead and buy and refrigerate eggs one week to 10 days in advance of cooking, the extra time will allow the eggs to take in air which helps separate the membranes from the shell. Hard cooked eggs are easiest to peel right after cooling because the egg contracts slightly in the shell.

Hard-cooked eggs spoil faster than fresh eggs because their protective coating is washed away in the cooking process. Without this coating, the eggs’ bare pores allow harmful bacteria to enter and contaminate the eggs. Hard-cooked eggs should be refrigerated within two hours of cooking and the refrigerated eggs should be eaten within a week. Once peeled, eggs should be eaten that day.

Springtime egg activities

If your family will be hiding and hunting eggs, or you want to decorate with colored eggs, it is safer to use plastic eggs for these activities.

You might want to make the egg coloring a family project. Since you will eventually be eating the colored eggs, use food-grade dyes or natural food dyes as suggested below. Wash your hands thoroughly before you handle eggs at every step, including cooking, cooling and dyeing. If any eggs crack during dyeing, discard them.

Natural egg dyes

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln offers up unique ways to color eggs with natural dyes; view the color list and instructions. Experiment to see what tints and shades you and your family like best. It will require more time and effort, but the result will be beautiful and unique eggs for you to enjoy.


There are some health concerns about eating too many eggs. While eggs are high in cholesterol, with 213 milligrams in one large egg, they are low in saturated fat. One egg is an excellent source of minerals and vitamins, supplies high-quality protein, and contains only 80 calories.

Consult your health care professional if you have questions about how many eggs are appropriate for you.

A more healthful way to enjoy your hard cooked eggs is to make an egg salad or deviled egg filling with mostly the whites – three whites to one yolk – instead of one yolk per one white. Add plenty of diced celery, chopped pickle or green pepper, and use fat-free or reduced-fat mayonnaise.

Or try a flavorful recipe of Chicken-Stuffed Eggs.

Chicken-Stuffed Eggs

  • 8 hard cooked eggs
  • 1 cup cooked chicken, cut into small pieces
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped celery
  • 2 Tablespoons fine chopped onion
  • 2 Tablespoons pickle relish
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon regular or brown mustard
  • 2 Tablespoons reduced calorie mayonnaise
  • 2 Tablespoons plain yogurt
  • 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 or more drops liquid hot sauce, optional
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt, optional
  • 1 teaspoon paprika, optional

Peel eggs and cut in half lengthwise. Remove yolks and discard; set egg halves aside. Combine chicken, celery, onion, pickle relish and black pepper. In a small bowl, blend together mayonnaise, yogurt, lemon juice and hot sauce until smooth. Stir into chicken mixture and toss until well mixed. Add salt, if needed. Fill egg halves with chicken mixture; sprinkle with paprika. Cover and refrigerate until serving time.

Author: Sue Flanagan, Retired WVU Extension Service Berkeley County Families and Health Agent
Last Reviewed: May 23, 2017