Homemade eggnog this holiday season – sans Salmonella!

As the weather cools and leaves begin to fall from the trees, my family knows that eggnog season is just around the corner. My wife is the keeper of her family’s secret eggnog recipe, which has been handed down over many generations.

David Irvine and his wife

Every year over Thanksgiving weekend, we gather in the kitchen to whip up batches of this festive beverage that we share with friends and family members throughout the Christmas season. It is one of our favorite holiday traditions.

As much fun as we have during our annual eggnog production, it is important to keep safety in mind. Due to the use of raw eggs in the recipe, consuming it is not without some risk because raw eggs can carry the risk of Salmonella.

Raw egg food poisoning – by the numbers

  • Per the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2020, about 30 people die in the U.S. every year from Salmonella bacteria found in raw eggs.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates Salmonella bacteria cause about 1.35 million infections, 26,500 hospitalizations, and 420 deaths in the United States every year.

eggnog in mason jars

What are the ingredients in an eggnog recipe?

Unfortunately, I cannot give away the details of our secret family eggnog recipe!  Still, there are several main ingredients in most batches of eggnog:

  • Raw eggs
  • Sugar
  • Milk
  • Heavy cream
  • Optional alcoholic enhancement: Bourbon or rum can liven up the recipe for those who have arranged a ride home from the holiday gathering.
  • Optional spice addition: It’s also common to accentuate the recipe with cinnamon or nutmeg. The selection of these spices can be particularly controversial among eggnog aficionados!
  • Note: Be sure to have at the ready plenty of mixing bowls, measuring cups, and an electric mixer.

Because nearly all traditional eggnog recipes call for the use of raw eggs, which give the drink its frothy texture, certain safety precautions should always be taken by those planning to partake.

Family making eggnog

Doesn’t the alcohol in eggnog kill the bacteria?

When I first learned to make eggnog years ago, I was assured not to worry about the use of raw eggs. People had convinced me that the bourbon or rum folded into the beaten eggs acted to kill all of the potential Salmonella bacteria. It turns out that this oft-repeated belief is a myth.

Adding alcohol to the recipe may inhibit some bacterial growth, but it cannot be counted on to kill all of the bacteria.

Interestingly, other ingredients in eggnog can actually increase the risk of salmonella. The heavy cream used in many recipes has a high fat content, and those environments can actually protect salmonella cells.

Can I make a Salmonella-proof eggnog?

Always use pasteurized eggs: This is a great way to minimize your risks. Pasteurization is a heating process designed to kill bacteria. Pasteurized eggs are sold alongside regular eggs at most grocery stores. If you are using eggs from your backyard chickens, it is possible to pasteurize your own eggs. This can be a tricky process. If you over-heat the eggs you may hard boil them, and if you under-heat the eggs, you may not kill all of the lurking bacteria.

Opt for pre-made: Commercial products, including store-bought eggnog, have already been pasteurized, so these are safe to consume. You could purchase eggnog from the grocery store and personalize it by adding alcohol or spices, as outlined above.

Fake it ‘til you make it: You may also consider using egg substitutes, which also can be found at the store.

Or use a cooked egg base: An alternative to using pasteurized eggs is to use a cooked egg base for the eggnog. There are many recipes online that describe the process. You begin by cooking the eggs and milk as an initial step before adding the other ingredients. The key is to bring the base to a temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit, which will destroy any bacteria that could lead to Salmonella.

woman making eggnog

What is Salmonella anyway?

Salmonella is a type of bacteria and one of the most frequently reported causes of foodborne illness in the United States. Worldwide, tens of millions of cases are reported each year.

What are the symptoms of Salmonella?

Classic symptoms include:

  • Upset stomach
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Abdominal cramps

Severe cases can require hospitalization and can be life-threatening in rare instances.

Salmonella is so insidious because you cannot see, smell, or taste the bacteria. We do know, however, that the most common sources of Salmonella come from the food we eat.

What foods can contain Salmonella?

Raw or undercooked meat is one of the most common foodborne sources of Salmonella. The bacteria is traditionally associated with chicken but can be found in turkey, duck, beef, and pork. Other sources include raw fruits and vegetables, unpasteurized milk, and other dairy products.

What do I do if I have been sickened by Salmonella?

Relatively mild cases can be addressed at home. Drink plenty of water and other fluids to help prevent dehydration. If symptoms last more than a week, call your doctor. For diagnostic purposes, your doctor may order blood tests or a fecal sample. Treatment for severe cases may include antibiotics.

Anyone can contract Salmonella. The most at-risk groups, however, include:

  • Young children
  • Senior citizens
  • Pregnant women
  • People with weakened immune systems
  • Those who suffer chronic illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, Lyme disease, and HIV.

Be sure to take extra care when serving eggnog to friends and family with these risk factors. If you or a loved one have suffered from a foodborne illness due to the negligence of another, whether it be a restaurant or a recalled food item, the foodborne illness attorneys at Allen & Allen are here to learn more about your unique situation. For a free case evaluation, call 866-388-1307.

The holidays are a wonderful time, especially for enjoying cherished family traditions. If your traditions are like mine, sharing homemade eggnog with friends and family, please keep these safety tips in mind. You can prevent foodborne illness from ruining your special occasion.

From our family at Allen & Allen to yours, cheers to a festive and safe holiday season!