Food safety with your Easter eggs

Coloring Easter eggs and hosting Easter egg hunts are fun holiday traditions for many families.

While today’s eggs are safe, the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development reminds consumers to take some simple steps this Easter season to ensure safe egg handling and minimize food safety risks.

It is important to remember to keep hard-boiled eggs, peeled or in the shell, in the refrigerator below 40 degrees for no more than one week.

Hard-boiled eggs should be stored on an interior shelf of the refrigerator, not in the door.

Easter eggs, because they’re more often thoroughly cooked, aren’t quite as risky.

Still, Salmonella can be found on both the outside and inside of eggs, so it’s important to guard against cross contamination before they’re cooked – washing hands and all food contact surfaces that come in contact with raw eggs – and also to store cooked and uncooked eggs properly.

Experts also recommend these safe egg handling tips:

– Check egg cartons before buying, passing over cracked eggs.

– Discard any cracked or dirty eggs you discover after you get the eggs home.

– Keep eggs and foods separate from raw meat, seafood and poultry in grocery carts and in the refrigerator.

– Wash hands for at least 20 seconds in warm, soapy water before and after each step of preparation from cooking to hiding.

– Wash all food contact surface areas (counter tops, utensils, dishes, and cutting boards) with soap and water after contact with raw eggs. Then disinfect the food contact surfaces using a sanitizing agent, such as bleach, following label instructions.

– Cook two sets of eggs – one for the Easter egg hunt and one for eating.

– Cook eggs thoroughly, and do not keep eggs warm or at room temperature for more than 2 hours. Do not consume hard-boiled eggs that have been unrefrigerated for more than two hours.

Food safety experts also offer the following advice:

-Choose the freshest eggs possible and open the carton before you buy to make sure the shells are intact.

– If you plan to hollow out eggshells by using your mouth to blow out the raw egg through holes in the shell, first wash the egg in hot water and rinse it in a solution of 1 teaspoon chlorine bleach per half cup of water. Or use pasteurized shell eggs.

– Hard cook eggs instead of boiling them – the gentle cooking will help avoid green rings around the yolk (not unsafe but unappetizing) and will also help prevent cracking. This method is recommended by the American Egg Board for cooking eggs to be dyed: Place eggs in single layer in saucepan. Add enough tap water to come at least 1 inch above them. Add a tablespoon of vinegar for better dye coverage after cooking. Cover pan and quickly bring just to boiling. Turn off heat. If necessary, remove pan from burner to prevent further boiling. Let eggs stand, covered, in the hot water for 15 minutes for large eggs, about 12 minutes for medium and 18 for extra-large. Immediately run cold water over eggs or place them in ice water until completely cooled. Store in refrigerator until it’s time to dye the eggs.

– Use only food-grade dyes and food-safe decorating materials. Dye the eggs in water warmer than the eggs so they don’t absorb the dye water.

– Once the cooked eggs are decorated, return them to the refrigerator within two hours. They can be stored up to a week inside the refrigerator, not in the door.

– If you’re going to use dyed, cooked eggs as decorations in braided breads, serve the baked goods within 2 hours after baking or refrigerate and eat within 3 to 4 days.

– Consider using one set of eggs for decorating and eating, and another set for decorating and hunting. Or to be extra safe, use plastic eggs for your Easter egg hunt instead of real ones.

– If you’re going to hide real eggs outside, be sensible – don’t hide them where they can come in contact with animals, birds or lawn chemicals. Do not hide eggs with cracked shells, because bacteria could contaminate the inside. The total time for hiding and hunting eggs should not exceed 2 hours.

– Eat properly refrigerated, hard-cooked eggs within 7 days.