• New research shows that 43 per cent of Australians adults don’t wash their hands after handling raw eggs, even though the egg shell may carry Salmonella. (OJO Images RF/Getty Images)
You may wash your hands after handling raw chicken but do you wash your hands after touching an egg? Experts say although the egg may look clean, the shell could be contaminated with Salmonella.
By
Yasmin Noone

15 Nov 2019 - 4:06 PM  UPDATED 15 Nov 2019 - 4:06 PM

Do you wash your hands every time you touch an egg shell, even if it’s a fresh egg drawn straight from a carton in your fridge?

If you’ve answered no, you’re not alone. In fact, you’re among the 43 per cent of Australians who don’t wash their hands after handling raw eggs, even though the egg shell may carry Salmonella.

This statistic comes from new OmniPoll research, released by The Food Safety Information Council this month, to highlight just how many Australian adults may be putting themselves at risk of food poisoning by using a humble egg in their cooking.

Cathy Moir, Food Safety Information Council chairperson, explains that even though store-bought eggs are usually washed and clean when placed into a carton for sale, they may still be contaminated by Salmonella on the outside. Salmonella bacteria can then be transferred to your hands after you touch an egg shell.

“But people need to remember that shell eggs, just like any raw food, can be a risk for food poisoning so always wash your hands after handling eggs.”

Moir adds that although most people are aware of the need to wash their hands after handling raw meat and chicken, they aren’t practicing the same hygienic routine with raw eggs.

“Our research shows that people are far more likely to always wash their hands after eating raw foods [other] than eggs,” says Moir. “For example, far fewer respondents, 23 per cent, said they didn’t always wash their hands after handling raw meat or poultry.

“But people need to remember that shell eggs, just like any raw food, can be a risk for food poisoning so always wash your hands after handling eggs.”

Food safety: Separating fact from fiction
If you drop your food, it’s less about time spent on the floor and more about the surfaces.

Separating egg yolks and whites? Here’s some advice

Moir also reminds home cooks to be cautious when using the shell to separate an egg yolk and white, as this practice could transfer bacteria from an egg shell to the egg yolk or white.

The risk of infection could then increase, especially if the dish you’re making doesn’t require the raw egg to be cooked, as is the case with a French meringue and some Italian semifreddo.

“Don’t use the egg shells to separate egg yolks and whites especially if you aren’t going to fully cook the egg dishes you’re making. Instead, invest in an egg separator instead and use it.”

“So if you drop a bit of shell into the egg mixture, fish it out for a spoon and use the contents of the raw egg to make a dish that is completely cooked through."

Lydia Buchtmann, spokesperson for Food Safety Information Council, adds that home cooks should also take note if a piece of egg shell falls into their dish. 

“The bacteria can go into the egg mixture, grow and make you quite sick,” Lydia Buchtmann tells SBS. “So if you drop a bit of shell into the egg mixture, fish it out for a spoon and use the contents of the raw egg to make a dish that is completely cooked through. Don’t use the contents for a dish containing raw egg like aioli or whole-egg mayonnaise. 

“Also, be sure not to wash raw eggs because doing that can push the bacteria from the shell through the shell and into the actual egg mixture.”

The lesser-known causes of food poisoning that may ruin your dessert
With the weather warming up, beware those cold desserts that have been sitting in the sun.

Why have we forgotten about the chicken and the egg?

Buchtmann believes that so many Australians are unaware of the need to wash their hands after handling raw eggs because they have lost the connection with the source of their food.

“To put it bluntly, people often forget that eggs come out of chicken’s bottoms and so, in the course of doing so, the outside of the egg may have salmonella on it.”

However, she says, people who have their own hens may be more likely to remember the threat of food poisoning and wash their hands after touching a raw egg.

“People in rural areas or those who have their own chooks may be more aware of the risks because they see the poop on the egg and realise it could be contaminated on the outside.”

“To put it bluntly, people often forget that eggs come out of chicken’s bottoms and so, in the course of doing so, the outside of the egg may have salmonella on it.”

Buchtmann adds that anecdotal evidence suggests many people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds may also be more aware of the need for hand-washing after handling raw eggs than others living in Australia.

We don’t have scientific evidence to back this up but in my observations, people from other cultures are much more aware of hand hygiene issues. Hand washing in the Middle East and Asia are much more common than here in Australia. In Asia especially, hand washing became really important with the SARS outbreak because this practice was vital in order to bring that infection under control.”

“To put it bluntly, people often forget that eggs come out of chicken’s bottoms and so, in the course of doing so, the outside of the egg may have salmonella on it.”

Buchtmann explains that it’s also easier for people living in a wealthy, Western country with free healthcare, who are far removed from seeing where their food comes from, to forget abut the need for hand washing when handling eggs. 

“If you’re living in a part of Australia where you have access to hospitals and antibiotics, you may also get a bit more complacent about hygiene practices for the prevention of food poisoning.

“But the fact is everyone should be washing their hands after handling a raw egg, just as you would after handling raw meat or poultry – there’s no difference.”

One in three Australian households may be at risk of Listeria infection
Nationwide survey results shows that one third of Australian households may be at risk of getting Listeria infection - a potentially deadly form of food poisoning.
Can tea towels cause food poisoning?
Should you be worried about drying up?
How virtual reality training could reduce your chance of food poisoning
The proper training of business owners and staff in the food service industry is one of the most important means for tackling the spread of potentially devastating illnesses.
Listeria-laced lunchboxes: Should you eat your dinner leftovers at lunch?
What's more important to you - saving money by eating your dinner leftovers for lunch at work the next day or avoiding the potential risk of food poisoning posed by your microwaved lunch?
A meat thermometer could stop your feast being a recipe for disaster
Cook up a storm, not a disaster: Here's how to use the right temperature to avoid food poisoning.