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If Eggnog Has Eggs in it, Why Is it Safe to Drink?

Photo credit: Matt Stangis, via Flickr

Eggnog is a holiday treat, but it contains – surprise! – eggs. So how come it’s okay for us to drink it? Here are a few questions and answers about eggnog and food safety.

If eggnog has eggs in it, and eggs can carry Salmonella, why is it safe to drink eggnog? The eggs aren’t cooked, are they?

Actually, they are.

“If you’re buying eggnog at the store, the beverage has likely been pasteurized,” says Ben Chapman, a food safety expert and researcher at NC State. “That means the egg-and-milk combination has been heat-treated to kill most of the harmful microorganisms that could make you sick, and reduce the ones that cause spoilage as well.”

Is it safe for me to make my own eggnog?

“Using regular eggs is risky, but you could use pasteurized eggs or egg products,” Chapman says. “Or you could effectively pasteurize your own eggs by slowly bringing the eggnog ‘base’ to 160 °F. The FDA offers advice on how to do that safely.”

Can I use alcohol to make my eggnog safe to drink, or to store at room temperature?

Only if you like really strong eggnog.

“Ethanol, the alcohol in beverages, should kill some of the pathogens that might be there,” Chapman says. “But the eggnog would still be subject to spoiling, as other hearty microorganisms can multiply and create off flavors.”

Chapman says that using alcohol as a protective measure isn’t a simple venture. Although wine and other clear alcoholic beverages haven’t been linked to foodborne illnesses, a 2010 investigation into exactly what components were protective in wine showed that ethanol on its own wasn’t enough.

Chapman says that in that particular experiment, ethanol provided a 1.5 log (that’s between 90 and 99 percent) reduction in Salmonella in 24 hours. That’s not good if you’re looking to make and serve eggnog, particularly since no reduction in pathogens was seen within the first 60 minutes after adding alcohol. “The cream also complicates things in eggnog as it has fat in it – and high fat environments like peanut butter and chocolate serve to protect Salmonella cells,” Chapman says.

What’s the deal with ‘aged’ eggnog?

You may be familiar with stories that have made the rounds about “aged” eggnog, and how it’s safe to drink eggnog containing raw eggs if you let it hang around for a few weeks. Many of these stories trace back to an experiment done at Rockefeller University (you can hear Science Friday’s 2008 story on it here). There are (at least) two things worth noting about the Rockefeller eggnog.

First, based on the recipe that accompanies that story, and some quick back-of-the-envelope calculations, the eggnog in question was ~14 percent alcohol – which may be high compared to many festive drinks. Second, the eggnog was refrigerated during the aging process. The cold temperature helps to limit microorganism growth and the hold time allows for the ethanol to penetrate and to act on the cells.

Chapman notes one other issue with the Rockefeller University data – it’s anecdotal. “Although it has made the rounds in the media as an answer to the holiday party drink favorite, the study hasn’t been evaluated by peer review.” Chapman goes on to say, “While it appears this specific recipe might work, we also don’t know what the threshold for alcohol content and egg/milk ratios would lead to similar Salmonella destruction. For example, whether an eggnog with 9 percent alcohol held in the fridge for one week would be safe.”

Side note: Thirsty for more? NC State extension associate Katrina Levine has written elsewhere about raw eggs in alcoholic cocktails.

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  1. You need to drive, if you’re an average citizen. You don’t need to drink raw eggnog. Just buy pasteurized eggs and be done with it.

  2. In 2013, the number of people killed in motor vechicle accidents was 1 in 77. Yet we are worked up over 1 in 60,000 eggs having salmonella. Do you see the idiocy here? If you are willing to get into a car but you are afraid to drink egg nog, then you DO have a type of mental illness because you accept the much greater risk of dying but reject something that could, but won’t in most realities, even make you sick. Actually, that is an unfair statement given the real difficulties that come with mental illness. Worrying about egg nog but not about driving is JUST PLAIN STUPID. 1 in 77 DIE in car wrecks. 1 in 60,000 eggs has salmonella that might – MIGHT – make someone sick and probably not even sick enough to miss work much less die. Fear and rejection of egg nog but accepting the risks of getting into a car? Yes. That is stupid. Here’s the proper way to solve this issue. “Do you like egg nog?” Yes – Great. drink it. No – Don’t drink it. Problem – and debate – put to bed. Do people die from drinking egg nog? Yep. But not many. Certainly not as many as die in car crashes. Now, I’m getting into my car to go get some egg nog. Y’all keep writing your hands.

    1. Larry, good point. I am not a food scientist, but I would say that with all the other stuff mixed in with the eggs, the scrambling temperature probably increases. Just intuition, so I could be wrong. Cheers!

  3. i work hard and long hours driving a tractor trailer. i get headaches that last for a weeks that wont go away. ive taken the pain meds from over the counter and they do work, but the headache comes back after i stop taking them. i cannot abuse those,,,they will kill my stomach or my liver…i read the labels….so…for the last week i have been stirring and drinking 3 of those things everyday when i get up and i feel a hell of a lot better for sure. im not recomending u do what im doing, im just telling my experience and glad i have the freedom in the USA to choose. thanks,peace,out.

    1. Bert, drink 8 oz of water every waking hour (you can taper off toward bedtime, but hit it hard again in the morning). This will greatly reduce headaches and dizziness. Most people are dehydrated and don’t even know it.

  4. I have been drinking uncooked or unheated home made eggnog for over 60 years and haven’t had the slightest problem yet. (lots of alcohol added) Just lucky?

  5. From another article: “Unlike raw chicken, store-bought eggs rarely have salmonella on their shells because they are cleaned before they’re packaged, Schaffner said. On the rare occasion that the salmonella bacteria enters an egg, it’s likely one of the 800 salmonella species that needs to be present in large quantities to make someone sick.”

  6. Using the same numbers and assumptions, and assuming that everybody in the entire United States eats one raw egg a day, we would have more than 5000 illnesses due to eggs each day, and over the course of the year almost 2,000,000 illnesses.

    1. This is like saying “I drink and drive all the time and have never had an accident.” You have a false sample, not representative of the larger population. Though you have never gotten sick, the possibility for salmonella contamination is there. With such a serious bacteria as salmonella it’s probably best not to take the chance, even if you believe it is “perfectly safe”.

        1. uh, no. it’s not.

          the fda estimates that one in 60,000 eggs is contaminated with salmonella.

          At that rate you could eat a raw egg every day and still be safe for 164 YEARS.

          Good God people, if YOU want to live your life like a toddler, do so, but you need not spread your mental illness to other people.

          1. I completely agree. Even if you do happen to be extremely unlucky, salmonella often lasts less than a few days with minor symptoms…

          2. It isn’t mental illness. Some people are more sensitive to bacteria in eggs and beef.

            I nearly died of Septic Shock, after being totally poisoned with E coli from eating medium rare prime rib from the best butcher in town. Three of us all ate prime rib, I was the only one who got sick.

            I spent 8 days in Intensive Care, lost half my hair, and all control of my arm and leg muscles. I was given only a 10% chance of survival. My case is considered to be a medical miracle.

            Be careful when throwing out terminology like “mental illness”.

            May your words be tender, for tomorrow you may have to ear them.

          3. “At that rate you could eat a raw egg every day and still be safe for 164 YEARS.”

            No, that’s not how probabilities work… it means that within that time period you will have had likely eaten a contaminated egg… not that it wont happen for 164 years.

            Your goal is to reduce risk variables when you can as they ALL add up to increase your chance of injury or illness. Playing Russian roulette with a 60,000 round revolver loaded with one round may not be so dangerous, but what about 500 revolvers like it every day?

    2. Perfectly safe? Absolutely not. Safe enough that I’d do it too? Yeah. However, raw eggs contain avidin which binds biotin (Vitamin B7). So your raw egg smoothies are keeping valuable biotin from being digested. Just a thought, but scramble those eggs instead. Cooking denatures the avidin, degrading its biotin binding capability.

    3. I’ve been making eggnog with fresh raw eggs all my life. No one has ever gotten sick, no one has ever died. Every last drop in the bowl is gone. People love it.

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