One person in Texas has died after eating hard-boiled eggs contaminated with Listeria. These eggs were produced by Almark Foods of Gainesville, Georgia and distributed nationwide. A total of seven people in five states have reported infection, with four of the sick people requiring hospitalization.
The tainted eggs were not packaged for consumer sales. They were peeled eggs sold to food-service establishments in plastic pails. Although they have not been recalled, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is warning food-service operators and retailers of bulk hard-boiled eggs not to use them to make egg salad, deviled eggs, or any other item, such as a Cobb salad. The CDC said that the investigation is ongoing.
Consumers are advised by the CDC to be eggsacting about the origin of hard-boiled eggs when ordering an item that contains them. If the eggs were sourced from Almark, or if an establishment is not able to say where they came from, the safest course is to forgo the item or to send it back. People who became ill reported eating eggs in deli salads purchased from grocery stores or in salads at restaurants, according to the CDC.
This advice only applies to bulk hard-boiled eggs from Almark and not their small packages intended for retail sale. It is possible that the outbreak could expand since the bulk eggs sold in the plastic pails have a shelf life of 49 days.
Listeria monocytogenes is known as refrigerator bacteria because it can survive and grow at refrigerator temperatures. Listeria infection can cause fever, nausea, and muscle aches. Symptoms of invasive infection traveling to the nervous system include headache, stiff neck, confusion or changes in alertness, loss of balance, and convulsions.
Listeriosis symptoms often occur 1 to 4 weeks after eating the contaminated food; however, it can take more than two months for the illness to appear. People at greatest risk are the very young, the very old, those with suppressed immune systems, or persons on dialysis. Antibiotics are used to treat Listeria infection.
Pregnant women and their unborn children are also at extreme risk. A pregnant woman may experience only a low fever, muscle aches, and fatigue, but the illness could cause still-birth or miscarriage. In the current outbreak, one infected mother gave birth to a sick baby that survived.
The ages of those who are sick range from less than 1 to 82 years, with a median age of 75. The information on this outbreak is current as of Dec. 17, 2019, but the timeline is April 10, 2017 to Nov. 12, 2019.
To report an illness, the CDC advises contacting your state health department. To contact the CDC, call CDC INFO at 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636). The department of health services in Texas is located in Austin and can be reached at 1-888-963-7111 (Voice - Toll-free); the website is Texas Department of State Health Services, https://www.dshs.state.tx.us/Mobile/Mobile.aspx
Perfectly hard-boiled eggs are not that easy to prepare, which is why food-service establishments and consumers will purchase them instead of preparing them in their own kitchens. Overcooked hard-boiled eggs can develop a green ring around the yolk due to a reaction between iron in the yolk and sulfur in the white. It is ugly but harmless.
To prevent the greenish hue, the eggs must take an ice bath immediately after cooking.
Another difficulty with hard-boiled eggs is being careful not to overcook the white, which will become rubbery and unappetizing if the water is too hot. This difficulty must be balanced with the end objective, which is to get an intact hard-boiled egg out of its shell once it has cooled.
When eggs are cooked at too low a temperature, pieces of the white get stuck on the shell when they are peeled. Although this is of no bother for egg salad, it is unacceptable for deviled eggs, which need to look like perfect ovals. (Ragged edges that look as though a small critter has nibbled them do not make for a lovely appetizer platter.)
A foolproof method is given by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt (2015, p. 103) in his award-winning cookbook The Food Lab. In his method, a thermometer is essential:
- Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil over high heat.
- Prepare a bowl of ice cubes while heating water.
- Cautiously submerge 1 to 6 eggs in water and cook for just 30 seconds.
- Add about a dozen ice cubes to boiling water and then let the water return to a boil.
- Lower heat so that water temperature is 190 F (use the thermometer to be sure).
- Remove eggs and peel under cool running water.
Yet another method involves using a pin to pierce the wider end of the egg before cooking in a gently boiling pot for 12 to 15 minutes. The hole relieves the pressure created as the white cooks and hardens. The eggs should be placed in an ice bath for a short time or under cool running water for easier shell removal after cooking.
The other way to get hard-cooked eggs is to buy an appliance for this purpose. You can find a wide selection online and at many different stores. These are generally inexpensive. A quick price check found a low of $9 to a high of $45 for a model that can make toast while the eggs cook!
Here is one of the quickest ways to hard-boil eggs. It requires an instant pot:
- Place a heat-safe trivet in the bottom of the instant pot.
- Add 1 1/2 to 2 cups of water and softly place 6 to 12 large eggs on the trivet.
- Close and lock the lid and choose the manual setting. Set pressure to high (with the venting closed) and cook time to 7 minutes for firm hard-boiled eggs. (If you prefer your eggs less well done, try cooking them for 5 minutes.)
- At the end of the cooking time, open the vent and release the steam. Carefully transfer eggs to a bowl of ice water and cool.
- Note: I use a 6 quart Instant Pot multicooker. You may need 2 1/2 to 3 cups of water for the 8 quart Instant Pot.
Copyright © 2019 Jani Hall Leuschel