Dear Asking For A Friend,
My friend loves to make cocktails with raw egg. Is this safe?
Signed, Happy Hour
Dear Happy Hour,
Some drinks use egg whites to add a rich, creamy texture, or egg yolk to help emulsify all the ingredients and give it more flavour. Egg whites are often used in sours (Pisco Sour, Whiskey Sour), while the classic Night Cap contains just the yolk; both parts of an egg are used in the New York Flip. All of these concoctions look pretty, but consuming raw eggs can pose a risk to your health.
According to Veronica Cruz, manager of healthy environments at Toronto Public Health, raw eggs can contain Salmonella – the highly-contagious bacteria that causes most foodborne illnesses and can trigger symptoms like bloody diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps.
“Eggs and egg-based foods should be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 74°C (165°F) to ensure they are safe to eat,” she says.
Found in the intestines of animals, Salmonella can spread quickly by eating foods contaminated with the feces of an infected animal or person, drinking contaminated water, and using unsanitary food practices. You’re most at risk when consuming undercooked meats, raw eggs, fruits and vegetables, unpasteurized dairy products (such as milk and cheese), and some seafood. Salmonella can also be present in raw chocolate.
In Canada, there are up to 12,000 cases of salmonellosis reported each year. That may not seem like an alarming number, but children, seniors, people who are pregnant and those with a weakened immune system can develop serious complications from exposure, including a change in bowel habits, infection in the blood, bones, urine or the nervous system, joint pain and reactive arthritis, which can be difficult to treat. And while most people fully recover in a few days, in some, the effects of the illness may linger for weeks, months or years.
Health Canada recommends using pasteurized egg products instead of raw eggs when preparing foods that aren’t heated such as icing, eggnog or Caesar salad dressing. Cruz suggests that these same guidelines would apply to alcoholic beverages.
Your friend may think that alcohol naturally kills all bacteria or that her cocktail shaking technique eliminates the risk of Salmonella, but experts suggest otherwise – there’s not enough alcohol content in a cocktail to do that. Even the best shaking technique can’t kill harmful bacteria – all it does is transform the silky texture of an egg into a thick layer of foam.
Some cocktail mixologists suggest that raw eggs don’t belong in cocktails, and that they are most often used to mask cheap ingredients in a drink. That said, alternatives and vegan substitutes do exist and can be adapted in most recipes.
The bottom line is that raw foods don’t come with Salmonella warning labels or safety guarantees. The best way to reduce your risk and protect yourself is to choose a cocktail that uses pasteurized instead of raw eggs. The pasteurization process kills harmful bacteria, and when handled properly and stored in a fridge, fresh, pasteurized eggs are safe for consumption. But because they’re usually packaged in a carton or bottle, they lose some of their air-trapping quality, which it what gives a drink that nice, foamy texture. More eggs are needed to achieve the same effect, but if it helps to minimize health risks, it’s definitely worth it.
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