(Edited from AP) Peanut butter recalls. Spinach scares. Contaminated meat.

Is it any wonder Americans are jittery about their food? So much so that when The Associated Press recently ran a recipe for traditional spaghetti carbonara – complete with its only barely cooked egg – e-mails poured in.

Had we forgotten the step in the recipe about cooking the egg?

(Edited from AP) Peanut butter recalls. Spinach scares. Contaminated meat.

Is it any wonder Americans are jittery about their food? So much so that when The Associated Press recently ran a recipe for traditional spaghetti carbonara – complete with its only barely cooked egg – e-mails poured in.

Had we forgotten the step in the recipe about cooking the egg?

No. But it did make us wonder. With so many traditional recipes calling for uncooked egg – mayonnaise, Caesar salad, eggnog, carbonara, never mind the simple joy of dunking toast in soft-boiled eggs. What can we safely do with raw eggs?

Simply put, raw eggs can carry salmonella, bacteria that can cause serious food poisoning, even death. But to be fair, any raw food can be contaminated. After all, salmonella is what triggered the massive peanut butter recall last year.

The Food and Drug Administration is pretty clear on the matter, telling people eggs should be fully cooked until both the yolks and the whites are firm. They tell people not to eat or even taste any foods that may contain raw or undercooked eggs.

That’s part of the reason California and New Jersey during the ’90s banned raw and undercooked eggs from restaurants.

In both states there was a considerable outcry in favor of runny eggs, and the laws were quickly revised to make it easier for raw and undercooked eggs to be served so long as customers are informed of the risk, either on the menu or by a server.

But all of that focus on food service frustrates Nancy Oakes, a James Beard award-winning chef and owner of San Francisco’s Boulevard Restaurant. She calls the raw egg a “simply magical food.”

At Boulevard, Oakes creates aiolis with raw egg yolk, and accompanies her Caesar salad with a soft-cooked egg on the side. She says safety efforts focus too much on the kitchen, and not enough on the farms where the eggs are produced.

And chefs like Gabrielle Hamilton, owner of Prune restaurant in New York, has no problem with raw and undercooked eggs as long as customers are aware of what they are ordering.

“I use them like crazy, for breakfast, lunch and dinner,” said Hamilton, who added that raw or runny yolks are indispensable for adding richness, as well as for balancing out spicy or acidic foods.

According the American Egg Board, the risk of an egg being contaminated with salmonella is only around 1 in 20,000. At this rate, an average consumer would encounter a contaminated egg once in 84 years.

So what’s an egg eater to do?

Still not so sure? Pasteurized egg products are available. Whites are common, but yolks are hard to find. But there’s a catch. Many of these products are made mostly from egg whites, which don’t emulsify or thicken well, so they won’t work well in most dishes that call for raw whole eggs or egg yolks.

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