Easter egg safety, from basket to table

March 23, 2005|by Lynn Little

Decorating eggs for spring and Easter is a tradition that has gone on for centuries. In many homes, eggs that have been dyed and used as decorations also might end up on the dinner table - and that is a food safety concern.

When you are deciding how you are going to decorate your eggs, consider whether or not you want to eat them later. If you want to use the eggs for an after-Easter egg salad, deviled eggs or in other dishes, remember that hard-cooked eggs are perishable.

If hard-cooked eggs have been left unrefrigerated for two hours as a decoration or part of an egg hunt, they should be discarded. When cooked foods are allowed to stand at room temperature for extended periods of time, potentially harmful bacteria can grow. The two-hour rule also should be applied to the cooking and egg-dyeing process.

Hard-cooked eggs are easy to prepare and easy to keep safe. The American Egg Board ( on the Web) recommends the following method for hard cooking eggs:


1. Place eggs in a single layer in a saucepan. Add enough cool tap water to 1 inch above eggs.

2. Cover pan and bring the water to a boil.

3. Once water boils, turn off heat and remove pan from the burner. Allow the eggs to stand (covered) for 12 minutes for medium-size eggs; 15 minutes for large eggs, 18 minutes for extra-large eggs and 21 minutes for jumbo eggs.

4. Run cold water over eggs or place them in ice water until completely cooled.

5. When eggs have cooled, refrigerate promptly. If you won't be coloring your hard-cooked eggs right away, refrigerate them in their cartons. Put them back in the refrigerator right after coloring and after they have been displayed or found in an egg hunt. The key is to allow your eggs to remain at room temperature no more than two hours altogether. Throw away any eggs left out longer.

If, in cooking, an eggshell cracks, the egg should be eaten, and not dyed. Also, discard any eggs that crack while you are coloring them or during later festivities. Use uncracked, continually refrigerated, hard-cooked eggs (still in their shells) within a week of cooking them.

To simplify the peeling process, tap a hard-cooked egg lightly on the counter, then roll it between the hands to loosen the shell.

Because you will handle the eggs quite a bit during coloring and decorating, be sure to start with clean hands. If you want to eat your dyed eggs later, use food coloring or specially made food-grade egg dyes dissolved in water that is warmer than the eggs. Return them to an egg carton and refrigerate them promptly.

If you hide eggs for a hunt, keep them away from areas where they might come into contact with pets, wild animals, birds, insects and lawn chemicals. If you keep hard-cooked eggs out of refrigeration for several hours or many days for decoration or for hiding, cook extra eggs for eating. Either discard the eggs that have been left out or use them only for display.

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland in Washington County.

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