The USDA Explains Why You Shouldn't Eat An Egg With Cracks

When making a run to the grocery store, most items on your list can probably be pulled from the shelves and quickly dropped right into your cart. Not eggs, though. Eggs need to be handled with care all the way from selection to the bumpy ride home.

When choosing a carton of eggs, it's important to peek inside and make sure they're all intact. For one, this ensures you're getting your money's worth. However, we're not just talking about avoiding those messy eggs that have been completely broken open. You also want to be on the lookout for eggs with any visible cracks. Experts from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) report that cracked eggs can harbor bacteria that make their way through these tiny openings in the shell. For this reason, cracked eggs are not considered safe for purchase. When inspecting eggs at the grocery store, if there are any cracks to be found — big or small — you won't want to add that carton to your cart.

Cracked eggs at high risk of salmonella contamination

In a 1996 study published in the International Journal of Food Microbiology, the Health Protection Branch (HPB) of Health Canada (HC) administered a risk assessment study regarding cracked eggs and how hazardous they were to human health. The presence of salmonella bacteria proved to be the greatest risk associated with cracked eggs. The research findings revealed that the risk of an outbreak was between three and 93 times greater in cracked eggs than in undamaged eggs. Such findings raised questions among officials regarding proper risk-reduction management strategies in regard to cracked eggs.

When it comes to bacterial infections, salmonella is estimated to be responsible for the greatest number of foodborne illness cases in the United States, reports the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Those with a salmonella infection may experience fever, diarrhea, stomach cramps, and more. Young children, older adults, and those with compromised immunity are at risk for more severe symptoms.

Cracks affect the internal and external quality of an egg

The quality of an egg can also be impacted if it is cracked. In a 2017 study published in the Asian-Australasian Journal of Animal Sciences, researchers examined the quality of four different types of eggs over the course of three weeks' storage time. The researchers looked at undamaged eggs; cracked eggs; eggs with thin, gray stripe marks; and eggs with severe stripe marks. Egg quality was defined by the researchers in terms of external and internal defects, such as rotting, discoloration, or the presence of blood or spots. It was found that egg quality was most severely compromised in cracked eggs and that minor stripe marks also had a mild effect on egg quality.

But what about if you've purchased a carton of intact eggs; and after arriving home, you discover that one has sustained a crack while in transit? According to the USDA, consumers are advised to break open the egg; empty its contents into a clear, tightly-sealed container; and stick it in the refrigerator. It is still safe to eat, as long as it's consumed within two days. When cooking eggs, remember to cook them until both the yolks and whites of the egg are firm in order to reduce your chances of potential illness.