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Ask the Dietitian: Powdered egg whites safer than raw ones

By STEPHANIE TOBER

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 24, 2001


Question: Much publicity has been given in recent years to avoiding raw egg because of the threat of salmonella. Yet I still regularly read recipes coming out that include raw egg whites, such as chocolate mousse. Is it safe to eat raw egg in that form? R.S., St. Petersburg

Question: Much publicity has been given in recent years to avoiding raw egg because of the threat of salmonella. Yet I still regularly read recipes coming out that include raw egg whites, such as chocolate mousse. Is it safe to eat raw egg in that form? R.S., St. Petersburg

Answer: Eating raw eggs is not recommended due to salmonella bacteria, which causes food-borne illness. Because this bacteria can be transmitted from the infected hen directly to the egg's interior, even clean, uncracked eggs could be infected.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one out of 20,000 eggs is contaminated with salmonella. The FDA requires a safe handling instruction label on fresh eggs for this reason.

Pasteurized eggs can be substituted for recipes calling for raw eggs; however, they are not readily available in Florida. Pasteurized liquid egg whites are available but will not work for any dish in which the egg whites are substantially whipped, such as mousses, angel food cake, meringues, cream puffs and matzo balls. However, pasteurized dried egg whites work great. Dried egg whites are found in a can in the baking aisle of the supermarket.

According to Shirley O. Corriher, author of CookWise (William Morrow & Co., 1997), eggs can be safely pasteurized at home by running hot tap water (about 140 degrees) over the eggs for 31/2 minutes. She also notes that eggs scramble at 180 degrees, so you have some leeway before they are cooked under the water.

The FDA does not prohibit restaurants from serving eggs that are sunny side up or over-easy. Pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems should avoid eating undercooked eggs.

Watch for hydrogenated foods

Question: What is trans-fatty acid? Do we just watch out for the word "hydrogenated" on the label and look at the percentage? R.P., Inverness

Answer: Fatty acids are made up of carbon, hydrogen and glycerol. Trans-fatty acids are formed when polyunsaturated oils are hydrogenated. Hydrogenate means to add hydrogen to the fatty acid. "Trans" has to do with where the molecules of hydrogen are attached in relation to the carbon.

Foods that are typically hydrogenated are margarines and peanut butter, plus many baked goods. Hydrogenation is the process by which oil is made solid. The Food and Drug Administration does not mandate that trans-fatty acids be listed on food labels, but hydrogenated oil is listed, and that's your tipoff.

For a heart-healthy diet, purchase margarines that have liquid vegetable oil as the first ingredient and contain the least amount of saturated fat. As I wrote in my last column, trans-fat is considered worse than saturated fat and is known to lower HDL ("good" cholesterol) and raise LDL ("bad" cholesterol) levels.

- Dietitian Stephanie Tober welcomes your questions about nutrition and will respond to those of general interest in future columns. Send questions to her in care of Taste, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or e-mail her at Tsprober@aol.com. Please include your name and city of residence.

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