Hard-cooked eggs in the shell once were considered so safe and bacteria-free that kids stored them in their Easter baskets and moms displayed them in a nest of plastic grass on the dining room buffet.
No more. We now know hard-cooked eggs should be handled as carefully as raw poultry. They should be stored in the refrigerator and left at room temperature for no longer than two hours max, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service.
Scientists have found that high-protein foods such as eggs are perfect breeding grounds for bacteria when left at room temperature. Further prompting the push for egg safety was a new type of salmonella bacteria that started showing up in some raw in-shell eggs in the 1980s. The bacteria, salmonella enteritidis, was transferred directly from the hens to the eggs. The discovery resulted in a government recommendation to thoroughly cook eggs and to keep raw and cooked eggs chilled.
The bacteria are usually found in the yolk, although researchers haven't ruled out contamination of the white, according to the USDA. The bacteria are killed at 160 degrees, but that doesn't mean hard-cooked eggs are off the hook. The shells are porous, and crack easily when handled by excited children. Bacteria and dirt can enter through the cracks.
The safest bet is to color one batch of eggs for hiding and another batch for eating. At the very least, follow these USDA recommendations:
¢ Wash hands before cooking and again before coloring eggs.
¢ Keep the dyed eggs refrigerated until just before the egg hunt.
¢ Refrigerate the eggs on a shelf inside the refrigerator, not in the refrigerator door.
¢ Hide the eggs in places that are protected from dirt and pets.
¢ After the hunt, discard any eggs that are cracked, dirty or that weren't found and refrigerated again within two hours.
¢ Consume hard-cooked eggs within one week.