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Published: 3/30/2010

Don't forget food safety this Easter

The 5,400 dozen eggs Hertzfeld Poultry Farms donated to the Northwest Ohio/Toledo Food Bank last week were a wonderful gift to needy families that surpasses the eggs we dye and eat during Easter celebrations.

Eggs are more than an Easter item. While we consider eggs a necessity in everyday cooking and baking, they are also a bargain in terms of nutrition.

These small marvels of nature are self-contained packages with 13 essential vitamins and minerals, high-quality protein, unsaturated fats, and antioxidants. All that and the calorie count is just 70 to 75 before we add all the extras that eggs are compatible with.

Tom Hertzfeld, Jr., grandson of the founder, says the company began with a few hundred chickens. Today there are 1.2 million chickens laying eggs that are distributed through the tri-state area and as far away as New York. Easter, along with Thanksgiving and Christmas, are the busiest seasons in egg sales, Mr. Hertzfeld said. Large-size eggs are the most popular, but whatever size is chosen, the veteran egg man says, "they are the best protein value you can buy." He also has advice to people who shop for brown eggs believing they are more healthful. "That is a misperception," he said. "Brown eggs are no different in nutritional value than white eggs." The only difference is, brown hens lay them.

Compare the huge Hertzfeld operation with a two-acre farm near Bowling Green, where 60 free-range chickens produce about three dozen eggs a day. It's almost the time of year for Amy Charlton to buy a new flock of Golden Comet chickens that will also eat free-range. "I am not sure if the eggs are totally organic," Ms. Charlton said, "because they do get some commercial grain. But otherwise they roam free and eat everything that we, or the dog, don't eat. Our eggs are only two days old."

The chickens share the two acres with vegetable gardens. The Charltons don't have a name for their business. Once in a while she puts up a sign "Fresh Eggs," but most of the sales are by word of mouth. Here's a tip. It's on Kellogg Road, north of Bowling Green, and last week large eggs were $1.50 a dozen.

The same day they were $1.39 at Kroger, and I bought a dozen for 99 cents at the Market House in Hudson. Egg prices vary, especially at Easter, but wherever they are from or whatever the price, the eggs must be treated the same way in the home kitchen.

Easter is such a beautiful season it seems out of context to issue food safety warnings, especially for the egg, which we consider nature's perfect food. It may be perfect in the hen house and all the way to the store, but in the hands of the consumer there are rules to follow.

Refrigeration is the key to safe egg use. Even though appliance manufacturers design units with egg storage racks, the USDA and the American Egg Board say that's a no-no. Keep the eggs in the cartons in which they were purchased and find another use for the egg rack.

Another habit that is hard to break is the old trick of separating whites and yolks by passing them back and forth in the shells. The outside of the shell and the contents should not touch, according to the rules, because there might be some contamination on the shell. It is best to buy an egg separator. I remember when the late James Beard did a cooking demonstration in Toledo that required separating eggs. He simply cracked the egg with his right hand and let the white slip through the fingers of his left hand, leaving the yolk in his palm.

To avoid salmonella, ignore any recipes calling for raw or undercooked eggs. The exception is to use egg substitutes, which are pasteurized and safe. Whole pasteurized eggs also are marketed. Homemade mayonnaise, hollandaise sauce, Caesar salad dressing, homemade ice cream, and eggnog are some of the recipes that may call for raw eggs. Avoid undercooked eggs in casseroles, French toast, pasta dishes by being sure they are cooked in the center.

Before wishing you Happy Easter, my most timely egg tip is hard to swallow, but very important. The display of hard-cooked dyed Easter eggs may look pretty on the dining room table so all can admire the family artwork. But the limit for leaving hard-cooked eggs out of the refrigerator is two hours. That means the display basket should be trashed and a backup batch of dyed eggs should be waiting in the wings of the refrigerator.

I have been hospitalized with salmonella after eating a decorated Easter egg that was not in the refrigerator. It even had my name on it. The two-hour rule also applies to next Sunday's Easter egg hunts. Just be sure all the eggs are gathered within the time frame and that there are no stragglers that will be found later. Or use plastic eggs that don't spoil.

Now, Happy Easter!

Mary Alice Powell is a retired Blade food editor.

Contact her at: mpowell@theblade.com.



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