I’ve Consumed Hundreds of Raw Eggs and Have Never Gotten Salmonella Poisoning. Here’s Why.

Health and medicine explained.
March 5 2014 11:44 PM

Go Ahead, Lick That Spoon

I’ve consumed 360 raw eggs in my life and have never gotten salmonella poisoning. Here’s why.

Cookie Dough tasting
Is cookie dough really dangerous?

Photo by Tyler Olson/iStock/Thinkstock

Not long ago, I made a marble pound cake. Marble pound cake requires making a vanilla batter, adding chocolate to half of it, and then swirling the batters together in a pan. This meant that once my loaf pan was in the oven, I had two bowls and two spoons coated in sweet, egg-y batter. I licked them all clean. Please don’t be alarmed by my lack of manners: I was by myself at the time.

L.V. Anderson L.V. Anderson

L.V. Anderson is a Slate assistant editor. She edits Slate's food and drink sections and writes Brow Beat's recipe column, You're Doing It Wrong. 

But, to be honest, I probably would have licked the bowl even if other people had been around. I always lick the bowl. When I was visiting family for Christmas a couple of months ago, I consumed cookie dough, fruitcake batter, and homemade eggnog. Every time I have made a type of cake or cookie for the recipe column I write for Slate, I’ve unfailingly consumed some of the uncooked mixture. Heck, every time I’ve made a type of cake or cookie just for fun, I’ve unfailingly consumed some of the uncooked mixture. And I have never in my 27 years gotten salmonella poisoning.

A quick back-of-the-envelope calculation: I estimate that I’ve baked cookies, cake, or brownies once a month, on average, since I started baking by myself around the age of 12 and that I have tasted the dough or batter every time. Let’s say that each of those batches of cookies, cake, or brownies has contained two eggs—a conservative estimate. This means that I have ingested the innards of—at the very least—360 uncooked eggs in my life. And this isn’t even counting the many times I licked brownie batter from my fingers as a small child, in direct defiance of my elders’ continual warnings: Don’t eat that, you’ll get salmonella.

Advertisement

Why have those prophecies turned out to be false? Is salmonella not as common as my parents, aunts, and teachers thought when they drilled caution into my head when I was in elementary school in the 1990s? Have I just been lucky not to encounter any salmonella-infected eggs in my career as a spoon-licker? Or have I been blessed with an exceptionally robust microbiome, rich with “good” bacteria that will overpower malicious invaders immediately, enabling me to eat all the raw eggs in the world without getting sick?

It’s probably mostly the first: Salmonella in eggs has always been rare, and it’s gotten even rarer since I was a kid.

Salmonella Enteritidis is the subtype of salmonella that’s most commonly responsible for salmonellosis, otherwise known as salmonella poisoning. Unfortunately, SE doesn’t produce any visible symptoms in egg-laying hens, which means that it can pass through henhouses undetected until consumers start complaining of diarrhea and vomiting, which are sometimes so severe that they lead to hospitalization. This is what happened in the mid- to late 1980s, when egg-associated salmonella outbreaks in the northeastern United States killed dozens of people and sickened hundreds of others. Following these outbreaks, egg producers started following protocols to prevent salmonella transmission among their hens. Pennsylvania, in particular, was at the vanguard of the salmonella prevention movement: The Pennsylvania Egg Quality Assurance Program has required participating farms to test incoming pullets (immature hens) for salmonella, prevent hens from coming into contact with other animals (like rats) that might carry SE, and keep eggs refrigerated at all times to prevent any bacteria from reproducing, among other measures.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Don’t Worry, Obama Isn’t Sending U.S. Troops to Fight ISIS

But the next president might. 

IOS 8 Comes Out Today. Do Not Put It on Your iPhone 4S.

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

Science

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

The Ungodly Horror of Having a Bug Crawl Into Your Ear and Scratch Away at Your Eardrum

We Could Fix Climate Change for Free. What Exactly Is Holding Us Back?

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 17 2014 6:09 PM Here's Who Voted to Fund Syrian Rebels and Get This ISIS Conflict Really Cooking
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
Gentleman Scholar
Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM Should Men Still Open Doors for Women? Or is it ungentlemanly to do so at all?  
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 6:14 PM Today in Gender Gaps: Biking
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 5:56 PM Watch Louis C.K., Dave Chappelle, Bill Hicks, Mitch Hedberg, and More on New YouTube Channel
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 5:26 PM If Fixing Global Warming Is Free, What’s the Holdup?
  Health & Science
Jurisprudence
Sept. 17 2014 4:49 PM Schooling the Supreme Court on Rap Music Is it art or a true threat of violence?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 17 2014 3:51 PM NFL Jerk Watch: Roger Goodell How much should you loathe the pro football commissioner?