Runny egg yolks are a breakfast staple, whether you’re cooking them at home or eating them at your go-to brunch spot. But as any kid who has ever tried to eat raw cookie dough has been warned, raw eggs come with risks.
Though delicious, are runny egg yolks safe to eat? And how runny is too runny? We talked with nutritionists familiar with food safety guidelines, and here’s what they had to say.
The risks of eating runny eggs
There are risks to eating runny eggs — namely, salmonella.
Salmonella is a bacteria that can make its way into food or water, and when it does, it can cause all sorts of unpleasant side effects like diarrhea, fever, chills and in some cases even more severe symptoms. Salmonella is significantly more common in raw or undercooked foods than it is in cooked ingredients.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says any food of animal origin — like eggs, poultry, beef and fish — “has a chance of being contaminated with salmonella,” explained registered dietician Amanda Holtzer. “They conclude that it is not safe to eat any of these products if they are raw or undercooked.”
How runny is too runny?
The ultimate question in the runny yolk dilemma is just how runny is too runny?
“Here’s a good rule of thumb for healthy adults — when frying eggs, fry them for at least two to three minutes,” Holtzer said. “When you jiggle the pan, the egg whites should not jiggle, and shouldn’t have any jelly-like whites left. The yolk should either not jiggle at all, or, if you like them runny, they should have a slight jiggle.”
If you have a thermometer, make sure the egg is cooked to a temperature of 144 F to 158 F.
There are other steps you can take to make eating runny yolks safer, too.
“Proper storage of eggs can decrease the risk of being infected,” Holtzer said. “Store eggs in the refrigerator. When you’re cooking eggs, don’t leave the carton on the countertop for prolonged periods of time. As the temperature of the eggs rises, the chances of bacteria multiplying goes up.”
Additionally, if you’re going to eat runny eggs, it’s best to buy pasteurized eggs. “This means that before they were packaged, the eggs were slightly heated to the point that kills any dangerous bacteria,” Holtzer said. The pasteurization process, she noted, doesn’t cook the egg.
It’s important to discard eggs with cracked or broken shells, Holtzer said. If you get your eggs from a farm, make sure the shells are thoroughly washed before cooking them. Finally, wash your hands before and after handling raw eggs to prevent the potential spread of bacteria.
Who should NOT eat runny eggs
Despite the risks, most healthy people shouldn’t worry too much about eating runny yolks. “While certainly at a greater risk for foodborne illness, runny yolks are typically safe to eat,” noted registered dietician Kylene Bogden, a co-founder of FWDfuel. “The only individuals we ask to refrain from eating runny yolks are those pregnant, children under 5 years old, and those with a compromised immune system.”
In general, as long as you’re not immunocompromised, you can feel pretty safe about eating runny eggs. Just make sure to take all the precautions.