Is it safe for pregnant women to eat eggs?
Until fairly recently pregnant women were advised to avoid all runny or uncooked eggs and any products containing them (such as raw dough, homemade ice-cream, custard, and mayonnaise). But new advice issued in October 2017 says that if you are using eggs produced in the UK adhering to the lion code, they're safe to eat during pregnancy – even raw or lightly cooked. Check your eggs for the red lion stamp.
The fear was over salmonella, which shouldn't harm your baby, but can make you very ill with food poisoning – something we're sure you'd rather avoid at the best of times, let alone during pregnancy.
If you still want to avoid this risk, make sure that any eggs you eat are thoroughly cooked until the whites and yolks are solid. Here are a few more basic steps to follow to ensure that your eggs are safe to eat:
- Look for the lion. The red lion and code that’s stamped on eggs show they're from producers whose laying hens have all been vaccinated against salmonella. Nearly 90% of UK-produced eggs are lion-stamped but it’s always worth checking.
- Don’t buy eggs with cracked shells. Bacteria can creep through even tiny cracks, so open the carton to check all eggs are in one piece before you buy them, and if any get broken before you cook them, give them the swerve.
- Store eggs safely. For years the debate raged: should you keep eggs in the fridge or was it safer to store them at room temperature? The latest advice is that they should be kept in the fridge, as it’s best for eggs to be protected from temperature fluctuations, although you should keep them in their box or an egg tray.
- Check the best before date. Never eat eggs that are past their sell-by date. You might have eaten other foods that are out of date but with eggs, it isn’t worth the risk.
- Keep your kitchen clean and tidy. To avoid the spread of any bacteria from eggs, keep your surfaces and utensils clean. This is a good idea at all times but is particularly important when you’re pregnant, so it might be worth investing in a supersized anti-bacterial spray.
Can pregnant women eat runny eggs?
I just had two fried eggs on toast (both with a runny yolk). Gawd, it was delish! The eggs were free range, had the lion stamp and had been in the fridge.
This is one of the main questions about food safety in pregnancy. The answer used to be “no” but, thanks to improved hygiene standards in British egg production and storage (a far cry from the salmonella crisis of 1988), experts have revised their view and now say: “Yes, you can eat your runny eggs, as long as they are pasteurised.” So feel free to tuck in to your dippy egg and soldiers.
Do note, however, that this only applies to hen's eggs – pigeon and quail eggs should not be eaten runny or raw.
How do I cook eggs safely?
Cooking tasty eggs is all about timing: overdo them and the yolks harden to a flaky rubber; under-do them and you risk making yourself ill. For that reason, pregnant women must take extra care in making sure eggs are thoroughly cooked, so the following timings – using pasteurised, lion-stamped eggs – are recommended:
- Boiled. Medium-sized eggs should be boiled for at least seven minutes, although not much longer if you want your yolk runny.
- Poached. Swirl them for five minutes but use your judgement to make sure the white is opaque and the yolk firm.
- Fried. To ensure absolute safety, fry them on both sides. You won't lose any of the flavour.
Can pregnant women eat mayonnaise?
Craving an egg mayo sarnie? If the mayonnaise is made from pasteurised eggs then you can eat it without worrying. However, if it’s made from raw eggs – as most homemade mayonnaise is – you need to double check that the eggs are lion-stamped.
Hellmans mayo has 'pasteurised egg' on the packaging and my GP said this was fine to eat during pregnancy.
Jars of mayonnaise bought in the supermarket are generally safe, but if you’re shopping at a farmers’ market or ordering a sandwich in a restaurant, you should ask about the eggs that went into making the mayo – especially if you’re in a foreign country where safety standards will differ from the UK.
The same precautions apply to Bearnaise, Hollandaise and tartare sauces which are also made with eggs. And don't forget about things like coleslaw, salad dressings and dips which may contain mayo. Although most food venues will use pre-prepared and pasteurised ingredients it's always best to be cautious and question ingredients if you're unsure.