I was watching a popular, health-themed talk show and the guest was demonstrating how to prepare a healthier version of chocolate mousse. His "secret ingredient" was avocado, which replaced the saturated fat that usually forms the basis of this rich dessert. It seemed like a great idea to me, since avocados not only supply the much-vaunted MUFA’s (Mono Unsaturated Fats), but also are loaded with fiber and other nutrients such as potassium and Vitamin A.
However, my concern was that this recipe, like most mousse recipes, included raw egg whites. I actually cringed a little as the guest chef spooned a generous serving of his creation into the host’s mouth. “Mmmmm! That’s good!” Didn't anyone ever warn him about the danger of consuming raw eggs?
Serious health problem
Unless you live in a cave, you have probably heard about a bacterium called Salmonella. If ingested, this tiny organism can cause severe gastrointestinal sickness and even death. Unfortunately, uncooked eggs are one of the culprits in cases of Salmonella poisoning, to the point that the FDA has described “egg-associated illness caused by salmonella” as a “serious health problem.”
Only heat will do
And in case you were wondering, whipping egg whites has no affect on Salmonella, nor does chilling them. The only way to kill this bacterium is to heat it to 160°F. That’s the reason your mom slapped your hand away when you went for the raw chocolate chip cookie dough!
There is some controversy about the issue of consuming uncooked eggs, since a number of alternative medicine proponents advocate eating them as part of a healthy diet. In addition, many haute cuisine chefs, don’t want you to miss out on the joys of recipes with raw eggs as an ingredient, like chocolate mousse, Caesar salad and homemade eggnog.
These groups contend that the incidence of Salmonella poisoning from eggs is on the decline thanks to stricter government regulations. They believe that as long as you know the source of the eggs, you are at little risk for contracting Salmonella from them.
Although there may be some validity in this approach, I would err on the side of caution, particularly with children, the elderly and those in poor health. In other words, the weakest among us are at the greatest risk! All the regulation in the world cannot completely eliminate this problem, and there is no way to be absolutely sure that an egg is free of Salmonella even when eggs come from reliable sources.
Eggs are good for you when handled properly.
The message here is not about eliminating eggs from your diet. Eggs are an excellent source of high quality protein as well as vitamins and minerals, particularly the cage-free, organic variety. Just be safe in the way that you handle them, and seriously consider the risks of consuming them raw.
Consider the risk
As far as I know, the talk show host had no ill effects from that chocolate mousse. I emailed the show with my concern about salmonella, and haven’t heard back, so I assume it is not a problem they are concerned about. I do hope though, that the next time they present a recipe that includes uncooked eggs, that they will at least mention the potential problem and let viewers decide for themselves if the risk is worth it—or should I say if the dessert is worth the risk!
Eat and be healthy with my warmest regards,