Every year homemade ice cream causes several outbreaks of Salmonella infection with up to several hundred victims at church picnics, family reunions, and other large gatherings. From 1996 to 2000 (the latest year for which surveillance was completed), 17 outbreaks resulting in more than 500 illnesses in the United States were traced to Salmonella bacteria in homemade ice cream, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The ingredient responsible for the outbreaks is raw or undercooked eggs.
A person infected with Salmonella Enteritidis (SE), the strain of Salmonella found most frequently in raw eggs, usually has fever, diarrhea and abdominal cramps beginning 12 to 72 hours after eating or drinking a contaminated food or beverage. The infection generally lasts 4 to 7 days, and most people recover without any treatment. However, for those at high risk--infants, older people, pregnant women, and people with a weakened immune system--it can be life-threatening.
You can still enjoy homemade ice cream without the risk of Salmonella infection by substituting a pasteurized egg product, egg substitute, or pasteurized shell eggs for the raw eggs in your favorite recipe. Egg products are eggs that have been removed from their shells and pasteurized. They may be liquid, frozen, or dried whole eggs, whites, yolks, or blends of egg and other ingredients. Egg products are not widely available at retail; they are predominantly used in institutional food service. Egg substitutes, which may be liquid or frozen, contain only the white of the egg, the part that doesn't have fat and cholesterol, and are readily available at most supermarkets. Pasteurized shell eggs are also available from a growing number of retailers; you'll find them located next to the regular shell eggs. These eggs look and taste just like regular shell eggs, though the white may be slightly cloudy, and they are nutritionally equivalent to their unpasteurized counterparts.
Other options for safe homemade ice cream are to use a cooked egg base or prepare it without eggs. The American Egg Board has a recipe for homemade ice cream made with eggs that are heated to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit and then cooled. This temperature will kill Salmonella, if present. The recipe is available on AEB's website, www.aeb.org. There you will also find recipes for other foods traditionally made with raw or undercooked eggs, such as mayonnaise, Caesar salad dressing, and eggnog. There are also many recipes for homemade ice cream available in cookbooks and from a variety of other sources that do not contain egg ingredients. One such recipe is available from the University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension using the following link: http://lancaster.unl.edu/food/icecream.htm.
Even when using pasteurized products, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) advise consumers to start with a cooked base for optimal safety, especially if serving people at high risk. Additionally, you should ensure that the dairy ingredients you use in homemade ice cream, such as milk and cream, are pasteurized.
Commercially manufactured ice cream, mayonnaise, Caesar salad dressing, and eggnog are typically made with pasteurized eggs or egg products or the final product is pasteurized.
FDA continues to work with federal and state agencies, the egg industry, and the scientific community to eliminate egg-associated SE illnesses.
For more information see:
FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition
(888) SAFEFOOD (723-3366)
USDA's Meat and Poultry Hotline
(888) MPHotline (674-6854)