Growing up, your parents probably told you never to eat cookie dough or brownie batter straight from the bowl. The reason? Both contain raw eggs.
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As with many things, your parents were right. Raw eggs aren’t safe to eat if they’re unpasteurized. That means they could contain harmful bacteria.
And even though eggs can be sold as pasteurized — meaning they’re heated just enough so bacteria is killed off — you still shouldn’t crack open an egg and start chowing down.
“I’m not going to recommend anybody eat raw eggs,” says registered dietitian Beth Czerwony, RD, LD.
Can you get salmonella from eating raw eggs?
It’s rare, but you can get Salmonella food poisoning from eating raw eggs. Luckily, you can reduce your risk of Salmonella by following proper food preparation protocols or avoiding raw eggs entirely. People aged 65 and older, those living with conditions that lead to weak immune systems (like cancer, HIV or AIDS) or inflammatory bowel diseases (like ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease) should also especially steer clear of raw eggs.
“It’s not super common — 1 in 20,000 eggs has Salmonella,” says Czerwony. “But you don’t want to be the person who eats that one egg.”
The side effects of contracting salmonella aren’t pleasant, she adds. “You can get diarrhea and cramps. You may start vomiting. That can cause you to get dehydrated. You really could have some severe health issues.”
Salmonella outbreaks come from many food sources in addition to raw eggs, though, including unwashed produce, raw meat and even prepackaged goods.
Is there a benefit to eating raw eggs?
Eggs themselves are a healthy choice to eat. Egg whites are full of protein and contain no fat. Egg yolks, meanwhile, are nutrient-rich and contain healthy fats and vitamins A, D and E. Yolks also contain choline, which is good for your eyes.
“If you are going to eat a whole raw egg, it’s because of the benefits that you would get from the yolk itself,” Czerwony explains. “But you still don’t even want to put yourself in the position of taking that risk of eating one with salmonella — especially if cooking the eggs gives you the same health benefits.”
In other words, even if you buy pasteurized raw eggs, that’s not necessarily a green light to eat them raw. Think of eating raw eggs as a case where even though you could do it, you shouldn’t do it.
“Nutritionally, there’s no benefit of eating a raw egg versus a cooked egg,” says Czerwony. “You don’t lose any nutrition from cooking it. If you are worried about salmonella, it’s going to get killed in the cooking process.”
What happens if you eat raw eggs?
As long as it doesn’t have Salmonella in it, eating a raw egg is a harmless — maybe slightly nauseating — experience.
“It might make you feel gross because it’s kind of slimy,” Czerwony says. “But raw eggs are basically just protein. That’s really why people are eating raw eggs — to get that extra protein in without doing shakes.”
But there are better options if you’re looking to bulk up your protein intake. “It’s not necessarily any better for you to have a raw egg than a protein shake,” she says. “There are so many other protein-rich foods you could eat instead. I don’t think raw eggs are necessarily the best or only option.”
7 foods that contain raw eggs
You might be surprised at what food products contain raw eggs. Depending on the recipe, these include:
- Certain kinds of icing.
- Homemade mayonnaise.
- Caesar salad dressing.
- Raw cookie dough.
- Raw cake and brownie batter.
If you do need to use raw eggs in a recipe, you can err on the safe side and opt for pasteurized versions. “If they’re in the shell or in cartons and they’re pasteurized, the USDA does say that raw eggs are safe,” Czerwony says, and notes that packaging will state when eggs are pasteurized. “There are going to be some recipes where you need to use raw eggs. So, you want to use pasteurized eggs.”
And luckily, you can take precautions to prevent Salmonella if you’re handling raw eggs while cooking. First and foremost, always keep them refrigerated. And when you’re cooking with raw eggs, be mindful of cross-contamination.
“Have a clean working station,” Czerwony advises. “I always recommend having a sink full of hot, soapy water so you can clean as you go. Wash your hands often, especially after handling raw eggs. Change out the cutting boards, too.”
Keeping everything clean can help prevent harmful bacteria from spreading or developing. “You don’t want to just leave eggs on the counter because you can crack them and they can be mixed with something else accidentally,” cautions Czerwony. “You always have to be mindful of what you’re doing. It only takes one time where you get sick, and then you’ll never eat that food again.”